Every day we take risks: driving a car, taking a flight, making business decisions, investing our money – the list is long. Most of us don’t think too much about the daily risks we take, and most of us are protected from many of life’s risks by living in safe neighborhoods, relying on a police force to keep criminals at bay, buying insurance to protect against predictable risk, and most of the time just avoiding situations that are considered high risk.
I had the good fortune to hear a talk by retired General and former director of the NSA and CIA, Mike Hayden, a remarkable man and someone who knows a thing or two about risk on a level most of us can’t imagine.
He shared a risk formula that I hadn’t seen before.
Risk = Threat × Vulnerability × Consequence
Notice the multiplication sign indicating the powerful impact of risk if one or more of the variables are in play.
I wanted to share two insights that struck me:
1. Threats are external, and while you can try to avoid them, they often come at you in full force regardless. Consequences are also difficult to mitigate or control, which can motivate you to do everything you can to NOT be vulnerable.
2. Attempting to avoid risk altogether leads you to playing it safe, not taking chances, and minimizing saying something, doing something, or even thinking about something that might make you vulnerable.
If ANY variable in the risk formula is zero, then you have zero risk, because anything multiplied by zero is, of course, zero.
There aren’t many aspects of our lives where any risk variable is zero. We try to mitigate risks to our health by reducing the threat of eating high-fat food, or not being as vulnerable to the flu by getting a vaccine. These are known ways to reduce risk.
My first question is this: when do we attempt to reduce risk when it comes to being vulnerable to criticism, to taking a new job, to starting a new painting class, to challenging how we do our work, to hiring someone who isn’t a cookie-cutter example of everyone else in our organization?
We know that fear of loss is a greater motivator than the opportunity to gain.
My second question is this: what risk are you trying to get to zero that is holding you back from living the life you want? The well-worn cliché that the greatest risk is often not taking one is true.
What are you afraid of, and what would you do if you weren’t?