Negative Branch Reservation

Note: This is one of the thinking skills taught by Eliyahu Goldratt in his book "It's Not Luck". This page brings together all material from that book which deals with this skill. Negative Branch Reservations are used to map out what can go wrong in the change process as we move from the existing system to a new system. Reading this page is not a substitute for reading the book as there is information in it that I cannot possibly reproduce here. If these thinking skills interest you, and they should, I urge you to aquire the book for yourself and read it. It is very readable and it is very affordable! The book is available in many bookstores, from Amazon, and also from North River Press.

This thinking tool is used to nticipate negative consequences and then build in ways to avoid their occurance. In the book, Alex first uses it with his son. He is planning a trip to Europe and his son want to use his new car while he is gone. Alex has serious reservations about this and puts his son off with a promise that he will think about it. Alex's wife, later that evening suggests that she could help Alex work on his commitment to his son. He recalled the promise to think about it and they sit down to analyze the situation. There is an identifyable set of steps which are used to perform this analysis.

Negative Branch Reservation Process

  1. Make a list of all the positive outcomes for the proposal. It is not necessary to list all positive outcomes, just those that are deemed significant.
  2. Make a list of all of the negative outcomes of the proposal. It is not necessary to list all negative outcomes, just those that are deemed significant.
  3. Starting with the proposal at the bottom of the page, use if…then logic to show exactly how the negative consequences would occur.
  4. Polish to language so it is not insulting to the other person.
  5. Show them how to read the logic tree using the if…then language. Present it to the other person by having them read it from bottom to top.
  6. When they have read the entire diagram wait for them to respond. Do not bail them out! They might be insulted by any suggestion you make, and they are quite likely to offer more than you might ask for. This also allows you to decline offers which are too much and everyone feels better about the outcome.

Alex listed the following positive and negative outcomes. The diagram Alex worked up on lending his car to his son while he would be gone is alo shown.

Negative Branch Reservation tree for LEnding Ale's car

Positive Outcomes

Negative Outcomes

A couple days later, as supper is finishing, Dave asks his father if he can use his car while he is away. Alex doesn't really want to lend him his new Beamer but he does want to strenghten his relationship with his son. Alex asks Dave to give him one good reason why he should lend the car. Dave, afraid that the answer is going to be no, becomes defensive. Alex reviews the minor promises his son had brouhgt up. He had promised to pay for the gas used. He had promised to take the car in for its checkup. Dave agrees and then offers to drive his younger sister Sharon whereever she might need to go during that week. Alex congratulates him on his astute attempt to recruit both his mother and sister to his cause in one fell swoop. Alex indicates that he has thought about it and does have some concerns. Dave is non-plussed. Alex reminds him that if Dave treats these concerns as Alex's problems then the answer will be no, but if he can alleviate the concerns then he can have the use of the car. Dave's sister, Sharon, wants to know what that means and Dave tells her it means he must live up to his promises. Alex brings out the first page and reminds Dave that the week he will be in Europe is the week that Dave has off from school and the whole family knows about his desire to go to Mexico. Having overheard the promise to chauffer her, Sharon jumps in and tells her dad not to worry about Mexico because Dave will be too busy driving her around every day to go to Mexico. Dave agrrees that there will be no long journeys in the Beamer. Alex hand Dave the second page. This page is shown to the right:

The tree would be read from bottom to top as follows:

Alex told Dave to take his time thinking about this since he wasn't leaving for a few days yet but after thinking about it for several minutes Dave volunteered that if he could get used to using it in one week he could get unused to useing it if he didn't use ot for two months. Alex felt that was too long and said one month would be sufficient. Dave and his sister Sharon succeeded in trimming the objections that Alex had in very short order and Alex told his son that he could use his car while he was gone.


This is a very straightforward method for uncovering negative consequences of proposed actions and then presenting them to another party so that they can be discussed and dealt with. It allows the two parties to feel like it is not one against the other but both of them against the problem. It also provides a methodical way for problems to be identified and prevented before they occur. This kind of planning can be absolutely invaluable!