What’s the Worst that Can Happen?

Category: Strategy Published on Jun 15 2017

When I was a manager and struggling with delegating tasks the question “What’s the worst that can happen?” became my mantra. If the worst that could happen didn’t include the end of the world, anyone being killed or maimed, or me losing my job I would usually go ahead and delegate the task. (By the way, most tasks pass this test.)


When I started my business, I let this question slide. After all, it was just me. I didn’t have any employees to trigger the question. Over time, however, I became aware of the fact that this question is also quite useful for small business owners.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently encounter obstacles, opportunities, and objectives that scare the heck out of me. When faced with fear, it’s easy to pause, rethink your strategies, or retreat. Any one of these approaches can make the difference between successfully being the first person to market with a great new product or service or you saying once again, “I was going to do that.”


Fear can be a major barrier at times. Here are some actions and behaviors that may be motivated by known or hidden fear:

 - Keeping busy doing what you know how to do well rather than tackling the project that includes lots of new, uncharted territory.

 - Sudden urgent activities that interrupt you every time you schedule time to work on something unfamiliar.

 - Obsessively checking email or Facebook every five minutes to the point where at the end of the day you know you have not tackled the most important things on your to do list.


I have found that recognizing and facing your fears actually makes them a lot less scary. Ok, maybe not a whole lot. But, it does make them manageable. And, it makes it easier to challenge yourself to overcome them one piece at a time.


The question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” is a great tool in the fear game. The majority of the time if you answer the question honestly you will find that the answer is nowhere near the end of the world, anyone being killed or maimed, or me losing my job, oops, I mean you going out of business.


Answering this question serves two major purposes:

 - It helps to frame the risks and put them into perspective.

 - It enables you to clearly see the risks and proactively minimize or avoid them.


Once you have answered this question and written down your answers, the follow up questions are:

 - How likely is this to happen?

 - How much will it cost or will I lose if it happens?

 - Can I live with this?


The first two questions assist you to objectively measure the risk involved. To create a value for risk, you simply multiply the likelihood or probability of the occurrence (as a percentage) by the total amount that you could possibly lose. This helps you to put into perspective the fact that the possibility of you losing your home, your family, your friends, and your dog is 0.0001% likely. In other words, this tool effectively limits your rational ability to catastrophize. (You can still predict the end of the world, but you now know it’s not rational.)


The third question will compare your objective measure of risk to your actual risk tolerance. There will be times when the correct action is to walk away because the risks are higher than you are willing to gamble given the expected outcome. However, the majority of the time you will realize that your fears are overinflated and you have very little to lose and much to gain.


So don’t let fear stand in the way of achieving what you deserve. Next time you find yourself avoiding something scary, or you feel that pit in your stomach, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Write down your answers, place a dollar value on the risk, and then check in to see if you can live with the results. Then make a strategic decision to move forward or abandon.


Either way you have freed yourself up for future success.