The 'Subtle' Difference Between Pre-Mortem and Post-Mortem

Discover how a simple yet powerful strategy can significantly improve your chances of success in any challenge

by Federico Coppini
The 'Subtle' Difference Between Pre-Mortem and Post-Mortem
© Sarah Stier / Staff Getty Images Sport

Imagine you're about to engage in a match against an unknown opponent. You've prepared thoroughly, you feel fit, and you're ready to face the challenge. You believe you have all the variables under control, or at least you think you do.

But in the end, you lose 6/0 6/0, a crushing defeat. The post-mortem analysis of the match begins, searching for explanations and justifications for your loss. It's possible that you didn't know the opponent was left-handed, an exceptionally strong shooter, an indefatigable marathon runner, or a lightning-fast sprinter.

Or perhaps you blame the court for being too fast or the sun for blinding you, even though you didn't wear sunglasses to protect yourself. In the end, you lost, without excuses. Psychologist Gary Klein coined a term to explain what you should have done before the match: the "pre-mortem." The concept is simple yet powerful.

Before facing any challenge, you need to know all the relevant variables that could influence the outcome. This means assessing the opponent's strengths and weaknesses (a kind of risk analysis), considering the characteristics of the field, the location, and the equipment.

Additionally, it's crucial to prepare adequately, arrive on time, warm up, and stay hydrated. The pre-mortem is a form of proactive study, an anticipatory analysis of the situations you might encounter in your challenge. It's particularly relevant for athletes, but its principle applies to any aspect of life where you seek success.

The Logic of Pre-Mortem

The basic logic behind the pre-mortem is quite straightforward. If there's a possibility that something could go wrong, it's likely that it will go wrong. This is known as Murphy's Law number 1: "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong." The pre-mortem provides you with the opportunity to identify potential issues or obstacles in advance, so you can take measures to avoid or address them when they arise.

Practical Application

Now that you understand the concept of the pre-mortem, let's see how you can apply it in your daily life to enhance your chances of success:

  1. Risk Analysis. Before facing any challenge, take some time to analyze potential risks.

    What could go wrong? List these factors.

  2. Identify Solutions. Once you've identified potential problems, seek solutions or strategies to address them. For instance, if you're playing tennis and your opponent is known for powerful serves, develop a strategy to effectively return their serves.
  3. Plan Ahead.

    Prepare adequately for the upcoming challenge. Ensure you have everything you need, whether it's sports equipment or relevant information for a work presentation.

  4. Stay Calm. The pre-mortem isn't an excuse to become paranoid or anxious about future challenges.

    It's a preparation and expectation management tool. Stay calm and approach the challenge with confidence.

  5. Evaluate the Experience. After completing the challenge, conduct a post-mortem analysis to assess what went well and what could be improved.

    This will help you grow and learn from mistakes.


The pre-mortem is a powerful strategy to enhance your success in any challenge. It allows you to identify potential problems in advance and prepare adequately to address them.

Always remember Murphy's Law number 1: "If something can go wrong, it will go wrong." But thanks to the pre-mortem, you'll be ready to handle any obstacle life throws your way, whether you're playing tennis or tackling more complex challenges in your personal or professional life.