Resources: Blog Post

October 19, 2015

Are we too risk averse to innovate?

Black Swan SwimmingA recent post on Facebook made me laugh until I thought more deeply about its implications.

Imagine a cartoon featuring a border crossing where a sign reads: “Welcome to Canada. Don’t Ask Us to Change.” Ironically, the post was contributed by a friend from Texas – not usually a place celebrated for progressivity.

Canadians are nearing the conclusion of a contentious general election in which we are constantly admonished to stick with the status quo because the alternatives are seemingly too risky to contemplate.

Whether we’re talking politics or business, appetite for risk is at the heart of this question because, make no mistake, sticking with the status quo also embodies significant risk.

We need to ask ourselves if the status quo is truly desirable at a time when Deloitte reports that, “Canadian firms are more risk-averse than those in the United States, they struggle to maintain a high rate of growth and many have little to no idea that they’re investing less than their peers on technology and R&D.”

The status quo wouldn’t be a problem if the world around us never changed. But, we are arguably living in a period of technological change like no other experienced in human history. The evidence is all around us.

Who could have predicted the mayhem Uber has unleashed in the taxi industry? Headlines from around the world report daily on the disruption to a business model established well before the advent of the automobile.

In a global economy still recovering from a financial crisis that wiped out roughly $50 trillion in capital and about 30 million jobs worldwide, isn’t it time to question our mental and operating models?

The challenges before us are complex and will require prodigious ingenuity to solve. Instead, our business models focus with ever-increasing precision on reliability; eliminating variation, uncertainty and risk to replicate a future based on past results.

In this situation it should come as no surprise that maintaining the status quo has become an end in itself. In doing so we blind ourselves to the possibility that events can occur at any time that do not resemble or even have a precedent in the past.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls these events Black Swans and wryly observes that a small number of them explain almost everything in our world.  For the taxi industry, Uber is a black swan.

Far from hunkering down to protect the status quo, we need to imagine and create a new future that is different from the past. This means embracing the change around us and getting comfortable with risk. Without this shift in mindset, we cannot innovate and the result will be financial and economic stagnation.

Do we have it in us to innovate?
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Tracey WhiteAbout the author

Tracey White is a negotiator, mediator and coach who specializes in strategic planning, execution, business operations, and analysis. She combines conceptual business acumen with a focus on metrics and data analysis to support evidence-based decision-making, planning and priority setting. Her strengths include Enterprise Project

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