In the shower, the best idea of your career hits you like a runaway bus. Years of hard-fought labor melt away, as the details clarify themselves in your brain like pristine, hand-rendered architectural blueprints. You pump your fists in the air, giddy with triumph. This idea will define your career. It will leave your clients awestruck. It will make your company rich.
Sadly, no one will ever know your idea. Because in this hypothetical situation, on your way into work you are hit by a bus.
Contingency planning—being prepared for the worst that could happen, even though it's likely that it won't—is a necessary part of running any business meant to outlast yourself. Business owners need to understand where critical information and actions happen across their company, while individual employees must stay aware of who does (and doesn't) have access to the results of their labor.
This is no laughing matter, but we bring it up every time we say: "If you were hit by a bus tomorrow, who would know what you know? Who could do what you do?" It happens more often than we'd like, especially when working in a freelance capacity. Your bosses worry about it. If you're in charge of a business, you have probably experienced times where such lapses in institutional knowledge have hobbled projects.
Matt Conway, an Associate Creative Director at frog design, has a great turn of phrase for identifying what project details are shared amongst employees. When a project contributor tells him something important, he asks: "What's your bus number?"
His turn of phrase is shorthand for, "If you were to be hit by a bus at this very moment, how many other people besides you and me know what we just discussed?" If your bus number is low, then you will need to capture and share your knowledge before you progress further. If your bus number is high, then you're in a good place to keep your project moving.
So, take a look at your current projects and ask yourself: What's my bus number? Who needs to know what I've been doing? Are there any new ideas that need to be socialized, and quickly? And how can I share these ideas with my cohorts most effectively? Then, take action.