It is always easier to remove or avoid risk than to manage it and there will always be competing interests when it comes to managing risk. Those charged with reducing risk exposure and mitigating risk and potential harm will lean towards a strategy of avoidance. But the change makers, the innovators, the dreamers are less inclined to focus on the risk and reasons to say no in their pursuit of their goal. At the same time, as with most things, both extremes can be dangerous, unproductive, and reckless.
Ricky Gervais was asked “do you have a drivers licence?” To which he responded “No I don’t”. He was then asked “Can you drive?” And he said: “Well I have seen plenty of people do it!” I’d love to go on a road trip with Ricky, but I’d be driving.
We learn by doing, and we build competence by repeating the activity. We don’t develop muscle memory when it comes to dealing with complex situations by avoiding them or mere observation.
We should be prepared to accept failure
Managing risk is not about rejecting it nor is it about ignoring it. It’s finding the balance and having the courage to take on risks. Our great innovators, artists and creators do so outside the strict boundaries and parameters that create a known and therein safe environment. The creators and innovators are our pioneers. We applaud them and their daring attitude when they succeed but quickly condemn those who fail. But we must accept that with innovation there will be risk and with risk there will be failure.
We seek to control and predict outcomes by imposing policy and procedure, but the contradiction is that the more policy and procedure we put in place the more opportunities for non-compliance present. The greater problem is when we are faced with challenges that sit outside of what is covered by those procedures. We have taken away the problem-solving skills of those which we now turn to. Life doesn’t sit within a set of guidelines and procedures. We can’t inoculate ourselves against the realities of life and nor should we attempt too. By embracing risk we’re presented with opportunities for growth that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
Working in response to crisis and disaster on an international level, I worked alongside courageous leaders who were presented with challenges for which there was no rule book that covered the unique circumstances. They were proficient and effective in their decision making because they had the muscle memory from facing and embracing risk as leaders. With risk we will find reward as long as we are prepared to accept we won’t always get it right. If we act with good intent, with integrity and consult where we can and make a decision and get it wrong, we will be forgiven. However, if we are paralysed by the fear of risk, the fear of making a mistake and fail to act then we won’t be forgiven. If the culture of our organisation is risk avoidance or the fear of getting it wrong, we are unlikely to capitalise on the opportunities or to realise the full potential of talent within our workplace.
In my former life in the police there was inherent risk every time someone turned up for a shift. For those involved in the execution of high-risk search warrants or arrests, there was always the possibility of injury or worse for those first through the door. Not making the arrest or executing the warrant because of the potential risk was not an option. Planning and risk assessments were conducted, but the job got done. Since it could not be avoided, it had to be managed.
The best innovation and creation sit outside policy, procedure and guidelines!
I have come to learn that when raising kids, building a business, or running a charity, it is easier to eliminate risk than to have the courage and strength to manage it. We learn to manage risk by facing it, not by erasing it. In difficult times we learn to make difficult and complex decisions. If we live our lives and raise our kids according to rigidly defined guidelines, avoiding or removing risk at every opportunity and attempting to predict outcomes, we shouldn’t be surprised to see a generation incapable of making difficult decisions. Our greatest innovators and artists work outside of defined parameters and rules, thereby creating and discovering new solutions.
Operating without due consideration to risk is negligent and can potentially expose business owners and directors to prosecution when they don’t have risk mitigation strategies in place, but avoiding risk is not the answer either.