Friday, September 16, 2011

On Seeing Risk Differently

Whenever anyone steps up and tells you that [social media] and the public service don't mix; when they tell you not to, and when they tell your that you are risking too much tell them that the real risk is failing to soldier on. Tell them that the truth of the matter is this: the real career limiting move is keeping your head down, never taking a risk, and fear-mongering when you realize that the calculated risk-taker beside you is likely to quickly surpass you on the career path. -- Nick Charney, The Truth About Career Limiting Moves

I admit (at least I've been told, and my experience seems to confirm) that I see risk differently than many people who share my line of work. When it comes to risk, my primary concern is the risk that arises from inaction or leaving assumptions unchallenged. It is a quality that Gilles Paquet impressed upon me very early in my career when I had the privilege to sit next to him on my very first panel, it’s what led me to write Scheming Virtuously, to start this blog, and to otherwise engage myself in the conversation around the public sector. Despite my efforts over the past four years, the dominant worldview is still one that argues that risks (and therefore consequences) arise primarily from taking action and questioning the status quo. I offer no direct evidence, but feel that few among you would argue the point.

Surely, this dichotomy is a false one. But I'd rather talk about its cruel irony than argue over semantics. Perceiving risk in either of the ways I've articulated above makes you blind to the other side of the equation. In taking a side we fail to see the absolute potential for risk (and thus consequences) before us. Instead we base our decisions (or more likely our nascent gut reactions) on only one half of the equation. Yet if the idea that consequences more readily follow action than inaction is empirically true, than the equation isn't a balanced one at all but rather a question that is skewed in favour of status quo thinking. The exact degree to which it is skewed may be directly related to (if not at least correlated with) the distribution of the people across the dichotomy. I can't help but wonder if this is what people are trying to communicate when they tell me I am a risk-taker (a label that I have never really identified with); that my actions are more likely to be met with negative consequences than others.

When facing consequences, my hope is that, regardless of what side of the divide you sit on, you are willing to take them on the chin.

I certainly am.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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