Organisation : Optimising Risk

A Common Sense Approach to "Should I" or Shouldn't I?"

Dr Arky Ciancutti is CEO of Learning Center. He is often quoted in the business sections of many business papers and journals.  He regulalry appears on National and Public Radio, on topics ranging from teamwork in the workplace to today's economic climate, to international trust and mistrust. He is the author of Built on Trust.


The Diving Board Dilemma

You're sitting beside your favorite Uncle. He is unwrapping your birthday present. You feel a little nervous. You are at risk. You volunteer your most innovative ideas at a meeting. They could be rejected. You are at risk. You are persisting with an honest disagreement; willing to take ownership for the results. You are, again, at risk.

Recognition of Prominent Emotions

Sound risk requires thorough understanding of four concepts: potential loss, fear, dilemma, and potential gain. Sound risk involves both analytical and emotional abilities.

We will not impact risk-taking without impacting fear. Fear is both under-acknowledged and mis-identified. Our more internal fears often hide beneath the culture's "socially acceptable" fears. It may be acceptable, for instance, to use "losing my job" or "not getting advancement" as a reason not to risk when "looking bad" or "not adding value" might be more accurate.

And if we've somehow trained ourselves to think that fear is a sign of weakness, we are denying not only our fears but our best opportunities as well.

Both fear and courage reside within our risk dilemmas, within our 'should I or shouldn't' I decisions. These decisions involve the Diving Board. Properly assessed, the Diving Board yields great information, including an appraisal of the irreducible risk involved. But getting "stuck at the end of the high dive" accentuates the obstacles. Questions and worries whirl through our mind, defying assessment. Visions of worst consequence cloud the original goal. Staying stuck on the diving board is a common form of
self-induced suffering.

How to Assess Risk

People often think that good risk takers are born with special abilities. But learning to take sound risk is simply combining emotional understanding with methodical analysis. The fact is, sound risk is
hard work.

The first step is to distill a recognizable goal from the "diving board." The assessment must include the worst consequences and their survivability. Define the key questions. Weigh both potential gains and losses. Conduct research on all assumptions. Determine the irreducible risk.

Choose a Path hrough Your Choice Points

Thorough recognition of emotion and sound risk assessment lead naturally to choice.

Your plan must include all actions, including research, required to reach your goal. An optimum plan includes at least one choice point, a time or event when your plan has unearthed enough clarifying information for a final decision to go, to stop, or to proceed with a contingency. The best Optimum Risk Plans include celebration details.

Build Support in Your Immediate Environment

Some perceive that their culture has become risk-averse. Executive announcements and initiatives won't be effective as long as people believe they experience a judgmental and mistake-intolerant culture. Answers appear to be three-fold:

• Give people the knowledge and skills for sound risk taking.
• Build support for sound risk on a relatively local level, and,
• Define sound risk locally through specific agreed-upon guidelines and procedures.

Ownership Means Making It Happen


It means getting yourself adequately equipped to recognize, assess, choose pathways and build support for sound risk. It means being willing to win and being willing to lose and knowing that neither makes you worthwhile or worthless. It does mean being ethical and responsible, not reckless. And most of all it means deciding yourself: will you have fears or will they have you?

Sound Risk Guidelines

• Recognize emotion.
• Convert dilemmas to goals.
• Decide whether worst consequences are survivable.
• Know the irreducible risk.
• When possible, consult people with experience.
• Devise pilot plans when appropriate.
• Achieve closure on support.
• Prepare for success.

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