How To Come Out On Top Of Your Worst-Case Scenario

Why you need to be ready when disaster strikes

Adam Cairns
5 min readOct 9, 2019
A Titan II rocket explosion in 1980 — NASA HQ Photo/Flickr

Two workmen move cautiously into the nuclear silo containing a Titan II rocket.

It is 1980 and the men are engaged on a routine maintenance exercise.

The Titan II’s warhead contains more explosive power than all the bombs dropped during the second world war.

One of the men has forgotten to bring a specialised tool which they need, so they go off script and improvise.

It’s something they and other workmates have done many times before.

They use an unwieldy wrench instead of the correct tool. It has a loose socket head that weighs eight pounds.

During the inspection, the socket head falls off. It arrows down 80 feet, where it crashes onto the tanks laden with volatile liquid fuel surrounding the rocket.

The terrified men watch as the tool-head bounces off, angling round in the air and then descending in the one and only position that allows it to drop through a small gap in the seal.

It crashes into the fuel tanks below, piercing them and releasing fuel in a pressurised stream.

A chain reaction begins which leads to an explosion that blows the roof off the silo and hurls the thermo-nuclear warhead 500 feet through the air where it lands without exploding.

Fortunately, for most of us, the consequences of something going wrong won’t be as dramatic.

Identifying when the brown stuff’s about to redecorate the room and acting fast to recover the situation is a vital capability for any marketeer.

What should you do when you think something’s about to go wrong?

Prevent A Small Problem From Snowballing

Just because you think something isn’t particularly important doesn’t mean that everyone shares your perspective.

Working out there’s a problem isn’t as important as figuring out how it might affect your client, your coworkers, or your company.

Preventing a small problem from snowballing is a massive part of maintaining your reputation as a marketeer.

Here are three ways to help ensure you don’t let small issues become big problems.

1. Engage Your Team

You can have a blind spot with an issue, but the rest of your team might spot trouble looming ahead. Include them in and listen to what they say. You could save yourself a lot of wasted time and heartache later on.

2. Don’t Ignore Your Gut

Clients pay marketeers to make judgments. Ideally, these result from careful analysis but it’s not possible to control every variable. You need to make a call. When deciding, just hesitate for a moment and check in with yourself. If you build this pause into your decision-making process, you can allow a faint internal warning to signal something’s not right.

3. Work Back From Tomorrow.

Play out the natural consequences of your proposed decision and consider who’s affected and why. If you can visualise how your decision will look in a week, or a month from the harshest standpoint, you might spot a wrinkle you can smooth out before you finally decide.

What If Your Best Laid Plans Go Wrong?

Even with these precautions in place, things might still get messier than you want. Now you’re under scrutiny and your judgment is being questioned.

If your best laid plans go wrong, the following will help.

Check That Everyone Else Thinks It’s Broken

It might sound strange, but not everyone may think something has gone wrong. Your boss or client might have been looking for an excuse to do something, which this new situation allows for example. It is worth checking to make sure that your interpretation matches how other people are responding.

Make Sure You Get The Facts

It’s tempting to move straight on to the next thing. Who wants to linger in a negative situation, right?

Before you do, take the trouble to look at what happened and why. Ask yourself what you’ve learnt and what you would do differently next time. Try not to make assumptions. You might think you know why you got it wrong, but your initial assumptions about the cause won’t always be right.

Get In Front Of It

If things have gone wrong, acknowledge what has happened and deal with the consequences. This is better than reacting defensively and trying to explain things away.

What To Do When The Retroscope Gets Switched On

People are normally wise after the event. Everyone can see a problem for what it is once everything has fully played out.

If you find yourself at the centre of something which got derailed, you might need to prepare for the retroscope.

Looking back at what has happened because you want to learn from what has happened is a healthy process.

However, in the harsh light of the retroscope, every judgment you made is re-evaluated in the knowledge of what happened, sometimes by people looking to assign blame.

It is amazing how easy it is to see what should or should not have happened when looking back.

The men working in the missile silo should not have improvised.

That they had done so many times before without incident led them to believe that this was okay. Even when things went wrong, and the tool fell, it still required an amazing piece of bad luck for the tool to land in such a specific way to fall through the small gap in the seal.

If you’re under the spotlight, here’s some advice that could help you survive to tell the tale.

Make a Written Note of What Happened as Soon as Possible.

Record what happened and your reasoning behind any of the decisions you made. It is easy to get blown around if accusations come your way. Having a written account will help you stay true to your version of events.

Talk to Your Boss Or Client

As soon as you see that something has gone wrong, inform your boss or client. Delaying the inevitable will not help and if you are honest and straightforward from the outset, you may limit any downstream consequences.

Get Some Advice.

If what’s happened worries you, then get some advice. This is best sought from someone acting in a professional capacity — your colleagues might think they know all the angles, but they might be wrong. Talk to someone whose advice you are paying for.

Don’t Hide Your Mistake

Avoid the temptation to paper over your error. More often than not, the error will come to light. When it does, your decision to hide it will make things worse for you.

This Thing Will Pass

It can be stressful when you’re being scrutinised. Just like every other moment however, this one too will pass.

Everyone who survives making an error, continues with their lives. It may be under a new set of circumstances, but ultimately a new day will dawn. This is when family and close friends will come into their own. Your mindset when facing such circumstances will play a big part in your eventual recovery.



Adam Cairns

Exploring the intersection between good organisation and creativity |Blog | Digital Garden |