Assuming the worst

Just as there needs to be a better word for “positive risk” – the risk of benefit or opportunity – there needs to be a better word for “negative assumption” i.e. assuming the worst. This extends my earlier posts on assumption ( and risk (
When compiling lists of assumptions we are usually looking out for assumptions that might trip us up by turning out to be false in a bad way. That is to say, we focus on identifying the assumptions which assume that something is going to turn out for the best. But don’t forget that we often also assume that things will turn out for the worst. These negative assumptions can also turn out to be wrong. An example would be assuming that the City would not allow you to hold your rock music festival in one of the public parks.
So, you need to be just as careful to identify implicit negative assumptions and make them explicit and document the corresponding risks and mitigations in the same way you would handle positive assumptions. Taking the example of the rock music festival, you might not even have thought to approach the City council to see what they have to say about it. If the City hasn’t already stated that they don’t allow music festivals in their parks, you couldn’t know for certain without asking.
There are two benefits to identifying negative assumptions… You will have a plan for what to do if things go too well so you won’t end up with a situation where you have all the parts for a project but no team to put it together. But most importantly, you will be ready to take advantage of any opportunities that open up to you.


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