Risk Avoidance is Doomed to Failure

I was talking to my oldest daughter about risk management yesterday. Not a topic I’d ever thought I’d cover with her, true, but it’s a part of her early childhood education course at the local university where she’s enrolled. They’re teaching project management skills, thinks I, which is good because she wants to run her own daycare one day.

She went on to describe how if risk management types had their way, children’s daycares would just be empty rooms with padding on the floor and walls, with only one helmet-bearing child in it. The phrase “risk management types” raised a red flag for me. I knew that I would have some re-education to do. The common attitude being that risk management is not real work. It gets in the way of getting things done. Often new managers don’t understand risk management or how to use it to their advantage. It doesn’t get in the way, it’s a way to get things done.

Having to assess the risk of everything in a playroom or daycare does make things difficult and is a pain. Children are unpredictable in many ways, and will do things adults won’t. Kind of like stakeholders and clients. Kids like putting toxic paints and plants in their mouths. Non-toxic paints are expensive. Blocks get thrown. Play scissors can cut hair. Children don’t always wash their hands after picking their nose or going to the bathroom. Yet we go out of our way to accommodate them, and for good reason.

If you tried to design a daycare program that was entirely risk-free you’d end up with the proverbial rubber room. Nobody wants to raise their child in a rubber room. It’s fun for a while, and a nice break for the parents, but long-term not very productive.

Risk Management is Not Just Risk Avoidance

Risk management is not just risk avoidance. Avoidance is only one part of managing risk. Gathering, analysis, contingency planning, and mitigation (which may include avoidance), and ongoing management all make up risk management. If your goal is to alway avoid risk, then you are not planning to succeed.

Imagine me standing on a table waving my arms at this point, because it’s very important: Planning to succeed is different from planning to avoid failure. Planning to avoid failure will not help you succeed. Planning to succeed will help you succeed. Simply trying to avoid risk itself will lead to failure. Only avoiding risk leaves us locked in an empty, padded room wearing a helmet, all alone.

Next time: Risk Management Explained Simply

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