Ready or Prepared? Which would you rather be?

This may sound like another corny, semantically twisted question. It’s not and I’ll show you why.

Before I do this, I need to justify the legitimacy of even posing this seemingly convoluted question.

The Power of Choice

Team building games aside, most people really do think ‘within the box’. Traditional education systems and work environments offer more frequent and obvious rewards to folks who solve problems as presented, rather than in a completely unrelated way. By this I mean that most tend to address open issues (note, “open”) with convergent problem solving skills so as to “close” the issue. We work within the information given/available to converge on the correct answer.

This fact is why people, when given a choice between a closed set of options, will almost always pick one. It’s the customary and obvious thing to do. Work with what you have, multiple choice, “I get it”. Sure, we all do.

When I pose the question, “Would you rather be ready, or prepared?”, most of the time people really do choose one or the other – corny as the question may sound.

Sidebar: If you’re a little bit devilish, you can test the power of {closed} choice yourself. On Halloween, offer one goblin, your “subject”, one of two unsavory options, e.g., a carrot or a stick of celery. With 90% certainty, I can guarantee the poor goblin will choose between the two. (Before their escort invites their self into your home, grab the candy bowl).

That’s what we do. We choose from what’s offered.

But there’s more….

Insights from this Question

This isn’t a trick question, although there isn’t a “right” answer, technically speaking. However, the answer I do get usually tells me something about that person beyond some word game.

Be Prepared: Individuals who answer that they’d rather be prepared tend to be more structured, conscientious and conforming. These behavioral correlates could be seen as the result of psychometric assessments — and I have seen a few. However, if you have a good amount of experience with the individual and their behavior, you can even see this in their daily choices.

At work, the “Be Prepared” types are generally regarded as your dependable, methodical, industrious, “good employees.” You can literally see them actively preparing for some deliverable — and this is reassuring. They respond to and respect the environment around them.

I’m Ready: Individuals responding that they’d rather be ready typically have a different work style — a style that drives most managers crazy. These are the great unknowns who believe so much in themselves (rightly or wrongly), that they “don’t need no stinkin’ badges.” They truly believe they are ready. No preparation needed. These types tend to be much less influenced by their environment and like to keep their options open.

The reason the “I’m Ready’s” drive the rest of us nuts is because 95% of the time, we’re not as sure as they are about their claim. Even worse, we can’t – or won’t – have any evidential behavior that they truly will be ready.

It’s a fact, unfortunately one that most don’t need to look up. Many who evaluate performance at work overemphasize the reassuring cues of those who visibly, and arduously prepare. The “optical producers”.

The Difference Maker

There are some individuals who do not give us angst when they simply state, “I’m ready”. These are the individuals for whom you have the utmost trust in their ability and desire to deliver on the task/project – whatever. (E.g., Superstar athletes, prodigy musicians, public heros, etc.)

If (fill in name of your top celebrity, here) tells you they’ll be ready for your talent show, you’ll probably be okay with that. On the other hand, if someone you’ve never heard of makes this claim, you may not even grant them an audition.

The Brutal Truth

This, is the modus operandi of a life in judgment. Most of the focus of judgment is on acts of preparation, mainly and simply because these data are available, valid or not.

Someone once shared this perspective with me:

“Management is basically interpersonal paranoia. You’re job is to be fearful that any individual on your team could screw up.”

As bad as this sounds, if you strip out the negative connotation, the statement has a sobering validity to it. We DESPERATELY seek to reduce uncertainty in our world. She, who quips, “I’m ready”, when you have NO PROOF that they are, does NOT do good things for your “managerial psyche.”

What to Make of it

The difference in behavioral styles between the two types is noticeable, predictable and potentially consequential. Prepared individuals will do, and look like they’ve done, all the right things. But they still may not be ready. Ready individuals may be good enough to simply “call their own number” in the team huddle (i.e., “just give me the ball”), but they can cause great heartburn along the ‘road to ready’. And no matter what level of “readiness” they exude, they still raise your blood pressure.

Putting the question another way: Which managerial mistake would you rather make? Send in ‘the prepared’, or count on ‘the ready’? This also can be a telling sign of behavioral style (but not of the ones being considered, this is about the one considering).

It makes a difference.


  1. I do NOT use this or similarly obscure tactics in my professional practice. These findings are evidence-backed, but studied in the course of my non-work, informal socializing. (Despite what you’re thinking, I’m not a complete geek or obsessed scientist – though I acknowledge this won’t help my social life).
  2. A wordsmith may argue that being ready is better than being prepared on the logic that ready is the outcome of preparation. But this isn’t about “smarty-pants” wordsmiths.


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