Critical Thinking

What is the Best/Worst-Case Scenario?

Darren Matthews
Last Updated:
A man sits to think what is the best/worst-case scenario.
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Every decision we make leads to action—and those actions have consequences.

But what might those consequences be?

Considering the potential consequences of a decision can help us make better decisions. This is the primary focus behind asking what the best/worst-case scenario is.

All too often, our subconscious plays out one of these scenarios as our imagination runs riot. Frustratingly, it tends to be one or the other. Of course, an optimist will always focus more on the best outcome. Naturally, the pessimist will only see the worst.  We must push beyond this limitation and seek both perspectives.

We need to ask ourselves, what is the Best/Worst-Case Scenario?

Critical thinking questions play an essential part in our decision-making. They lead us to understand potential outcomes and make judgements. Therefore, we need to consider the impact of both effects.

“I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”—Benjamin Disraeli

The point  Benjamin Disraeli is making is this:

If you have thought about the worst-case scenario you can be ready for whatever could go wrong. Equally, thinking about the upsides of a decision helps you focus on making sure the worst-case scenario doesn't happen.

That's the scope of this article. I explain how you should think about the best/worst-case scenario.

Be prepared.

From the age of eight – through to when I was twenty-two, I was a scout - and then an instructor. The motto “Be Prepared” was something we focused on – with good reason. It is a fine motto and a rule that should transcend everyone beyond the scouting world.

Sadly, despite my fourteen years, I let the rule slip by failing to consider the best and worst outcomes of a family walk in North Wales. Had I thought about the worst-case scenario then I would have considered:

  • We could get lost.
  • Not having enough food or water.
  • The weather might change from dry to wet.
  • Our lack of fitness might make the walk take longer.

The walk began in glorious sunshine. The warm October sun lighting up the autumn colours as we walked. We delighted in the hues of red, burnt orange and browning leaves falling all around us.

Quickly though, our attention turned to the tough going terrain. The hill was steep, with rocks making every step a potential ankle twist. This slowed us down a lot. The extra effort drained what little water we had with us – making our thirst worse.

As the afternoon wore on, so the cloud arrived. Then the path split – and without a map and compass – we had to guess which path to take. With the rain now falling and reducing visibility, it dawned on us we had no idea where we were.

A call to the emergency services and a search from mountain rescue got us down from the hill safely.

The question to help you be prepared – what is the best/worst-case scenario?

I didn’t need hindsight to tell me I’d made a big mistake. My guilt – compounded by the fact I should have known better is a lesson I’ll share with the millions.

One question – the best/worst case scenario – would have left me knowing the following:

  • We need torches.
  • We need waterproofs.
  • We need a map and compass.
  • We need more supplies than we realise.

Ultimately, a better appreciation of the worst-case scenario probably would have led to an easier – shorter walk first.

How to use the question - what is the best/worst-case scenario?

When we’re faced with big decisions, we need to challenge our thinking. We need to think critically – and the pathway to thinking critically is to ask questions. Thus, what is the best/worst-case scenario is prompt to think into the future. Ask yourself what does good look like? But also ask, what does bad look like?

These questions force us to map out – either in our minds – or on paper what those two scenarios look like. In business, we call it a premortem.

The simple process is asking if we did this what could go right, but also, what could go wrong. Once you can visualise these, you can then work out how to cope with them. Hey, you can even work out how to prevent the worst-case and make the best-case scenario happen.

Writing it down – particularly if it is a big decision can bring some key insights to the decision you’re facing.

So, when deciding – always ask what is the best/ worst-case scenario?

Critical Thinking

This question is another critical thinking question. It is part of the guide to using critical thinking questions to improve your decisions.

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