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Test your assumptions

Use the power of negative thinking to stay sharp

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

The late David Ogilvy said that one key to his success as an advertising whiz was periodically running ads he knew would fail. He’d track these “sure loser” campaigns and quickly pull them when they performed as expected. Yet some of them were hits, advancing his understanding of the market.

While optimism often pays, adopting a negative mindset can work wonders. Consider these decision making techniques:

Draft an anti-action plan. To determine what you should do, ask what you shouldn’t do. List all the mistakes you want to avoid. Example: If you’re preparing to open a new office, ask yourself, “How can I really screw up this expansion?” This helps you anticipate problems.

Embrace doubt. You’re fairly sure of a pending decision, so you convince yourself by finding reasons to support your hunch. Instead, take the opposite approach: Ponder all the ways your judgments might be wrong. Then make sure your biases won’t lead you astray.

Identify wild cards. Know what you can and cannot control. Evaluate each uncontrollable variable as a potential threat. If you absolutely can’t avoid bad outcomes, make sure you can live with them.

Prepare for worst case. In weighing whether to take a risk, you lick your chops when thinking of what’s to gain. Instead, imagine the worst-case scenario. Can you afford it? How could you mitigate the damage? You may not enjoy doomsday thinking, but it can keep doomsday from coming.

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