Risk is a Four Letter Word

I’ve been to a few interviews lately and I’ve been asked a variety of questions, some really smart and others…well…

One question I was asked recently got me thinking about risk. I was describing a project I worked on and I was feeling really good about what I was saying when I was asked this question…”And how did you manage risk”? This little question told me a lot about the person asking it.

I have pretty strong feelings about risk management – basically I think it sucks! The risk managers and risk analysts out there operate from a place of fear – ironically, another four letter word…

Anyone who ever did anything great did so because they stepped into fear and actually did something. In the words of my hero Seth Godin they “shipped”. The creation of graphs, charts and spreadsheets to manage risk are designed to prevent shipping. If there is no shipping then no one has to take any responsibility for the outcome.

Of course, I am not proposing that we throw the idea of risk management out with the trash. There are some circumstance where risk is essential for survival. I’m not going to walk out in front of a bus and hope for the best. That’s the key really, keep risk management for life and death situations. Most organisational risk management practices appear to have forgotten this.

Risk and fear also exist on a personal level. We recently bought our 8 year old daughter a TV/Computer for her room. She has Internet access and we never monitor what she searches. A lot of our friends were aghast at this and imagined all sorts of evil happening. We don’t monitor because we trust our daughter to self monitor and we don’t operate from a place of fear.

An interesting exercise relating to the reality of fear and risk management is to take a look at some statistics around the actual instances of Internet evil versus traffic accidents. As you might have guessed you have more chance of having a traffic accident than you do of encountering some weirdo on the Internet. We stop our children from having access to the Internet in their rooms but do we avoid putting them into the car?

So, how did I respond to the interview question? I knew exactly how they wanted me to respond so I did a bit of quick thinking and told the panel member what I thought of risk management in general. I took a risk! I didn’t get the job but then I don’t really want to work for a company that is driven by fear.

How do you feel about risk?

How is your fear holding you back?

The next time you are in a meeting and the talk turns to risk management why not challenge peoples’ way of thinking. Take a risk and step into your fear. Your organisation might actually ship something…

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