The Disaster Exercise (How to use negative thinking to your advantage)

“I had such a nightmare last night, you would not believe it!” announced dramatically LittleMissLisa entering the office on a rainy Tuesday morning.

“Good morning to you too!” Annie answered with a smile.

“Yes, hi, I am sorry, but… it was so terrible, a real Armageddon!”

“Apparently you are fine! Did Bruce Willis come and saved you?”

“Obviously! And also, I got this neat idea! Let’s go and get some coffee. And then we will do a Disaster exercise!”


The Disaster Exercise

What are your worst fears in this project right now?

Think Murphy, think negative. Think about all those things we complained about to each other now and then, but never did anything about them. Think about things that bothered you before yet you did not say anything to anyone.

Use your Monday morning anxiety… it is Tuesday? Well, try to recall that precious Monday 9AM feeling, okay?

To be clear – please stay real! Do not put something like “A meteor strikes the building and all we ever did is gone”. The chances that will happen are small, but I guess we may be in the building when it happens and I would worry more about that than my project artifacts… So, stay real and pragmatic.

Please, take the post-its and write your dark what-if-this-happens on them, one per post-it. Now!

After 10 minutes:


Negative thinking

“Good, great, I mean – bad, really bad! Let us go through them and see if we can think even of the worse ones, add some more!”

“No, LittleMissLisa, will we do one of those risk analysis things now? I have seen it before!”

“A very good question! No, I am not trying to demonstrate risk analysis. This exercise is about the power of negative thinking and how to use it to our benefit. This is about how to get the best out of the worst.

In psychology and medicine, it has been researched and shown that negative thinking influences how we feel. People with negative thinking patterns have poorer overall health and lower stress tolerance.

Teaching an individual how to use her negative thoughts and transform them to positive ones is a simple task (well, not easy to adopt and practice in everyday life, but simple to explain). Using the energy of negative thinking and converting it to positive, is good for diminishing your stress levels and improving your overall health”.

“Hmmm, OK. But, how do we convert our negative post-its to positive?”

“It is simple! Negate the negative! And then, do something about it! Let us add two more columns to the whiteboard.”



The Aftermath

LittleMissLisa: “What do you think?”

Igor: “I like that we started with bringing up the negative thoughts and our worries and made them more visible!”

Annie: “I like that the exercise ends with a prescription! We have the power to do something about this and it is up to us!”

Toby: “Yes, that sets this exercise apart from the traditional risk analysis workshops I attended before. They just leave you with an ordered list of risks as an input to someone else, who is usually undefined, to go through and do something about. It was never clear that it is really up to the team.”

LittleMissLisa: “Sometimes it is much faster and easier, as a first step, to say what bothers us, and talk about the dark clouds we see might be coming, than to just come up at the spot with new beneficial things we should do and practices we should adopt.

It is good to use all the potential we have to our advantage; in this case – the negative thinking!”


The Disaster Exercise can be practiced before you run the Sprint planning (if you are practicing Scrum), as a part of the Retrospectives or whenever.

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One Response to The Disaster Exercise (How to use negative thinking to your advantage)

  1. Lokearcarge says:

    I really enjoyed reading your article, keep on making such interesting articles!!

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