As long as there are humans on this planet, people will take risks. Efforts to try and eliminate risk are doomed to fail – unless every human being is wrapped in cotton wool and locked in a cell. Even then someone will try to do something radical. There is too much focus today on trying to eliminate risk – and that’s not only bad for business but also for human resiliency.
Occupational Health and Safety
Of course people should be protected from truly dangerous situations. However, in a number of countries, such as New Zealand, recent legislative developments are causing concern. They appear to be moving a great deal of responsibility away from individuals to ‘someone else’. And yet it is the individual who is at the centre of any risk environment and is largely responsible for making a go/no-go decision. School principals are paranoid that they will be prosecuted if a pupil climbs a tree at school and falls to the ground and becomes injured – perhaps even dies. We have a council wanting to fence off a harbour-side boardwalk in case someone falls into the sea a couple of metres below – even though it has been there for years and no one has ever fallen in the water. It’s an obsession with eliminating a potential risk associated with a council managed asset, even if miniscule, that is creating a nonsense situation.
Why a nonsense situation?
Because a short distance away there are public beaches where the waves can be quite boisterous at times and dangerous rips can form. People have been injured and drowned there. But imagine the uproar if the beaches were fenced off so that no one could enter the water to eliminate a hazard. If they do install a fence on the boardwalk, what’s the bet that someone will climb up on it at some time and maybe fall off – from an even greater height!
When we went to school we had to walk some kilometres from an age of 5 years. The first couple of times a parent walked with us to teach us the way and also to look left and right before crossing the road to make sure we were aware of the risk of being run over by a car or truck. Today, many kids are driven to school, often in large SUVs - sometimes complete with bull-bars. Parents want to make sure they arrive safely – but at the same time are also robbing them of the opportunity to recognise and manage risk. They don’t have to watch out for traffic. They don’t have to avoid hazards. They don’t have to be wary of strangers who may cause them harm. They are oblivious to many risks and unprepared to deal with them. In addition, interacting with others through interfaces (smart phones, social networks etc.) allows them to do things that they might think twice about if interacting with people face to face. There is a perceived level of protection and immunity from risk by hiding behind interfaces – although some are finding out that they are not as hidden as they may have first believed! Today’s young people are reported as having the lowest level of resilience ever.
Risk taking is essential
A quote from Elizabeth Peterson in a recent article sums it up succinctly. ‘If it’s not safe to make mistakes, then it’s not safe to grow’. And that’s the big issue. We appear to be focused so much on eliminating risks and hazards that we are evolving into a society that has decreasing resilience. If we continue to fail to recognise that we need to be resilient then we’re simply not prepared to survive and thrive in this world as individuals - or in business. Think of Kodak, Lehman Brothers, Borders and Amy Winehouse - amongst others.
This post originally appeared on our partner website www.marcollieblue.com