Bitmoji photo of Joseph Gruber

Joseph Gruber

Thoughts from a spacecraft engineering manager, photographer, coffee aficionado, and future Mars resident.

Our Growing Antipathy to Major Risks

Looking back over the past century, when did we begin to worry so much about risk that we have stopped living on the edge of possibilities and strayed back to the safety of the ensured? Just think in the past one hundred or so years we have seen the invention of the modern automobile allowing humans to travel faster than ever before and allowing easier travel over great distances. Let us not forget about the Wright Brothers who with their invention of the airplane allowed humans to take flight. Moreover, if we are talking about airplane it must be mentioned the invention of the rocket allowing humans to take that giant leap, a huge risk, and leave our planet Earth for the first time ever! Something that most thought to be impossible not that many years prior.

These are great achievements just in a short period but if we look even further back we see even greater risks that humanity has achieved. One that quickly pops to mind is the journey of Christopher Columbus to sail west across the vastness across the Atlantic Ocean in an effort to find the East Indies. What a risk not only Christopher Columbus took along with his sailors but also King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella who financed the trip! One wonders though how many risk mitigation strategies they had in place or what type of risk identification they took before authorizing the trip.

Obviously, in each of these cases throughout history risk management has played a part to one extent or another. When NASA sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon, the risks were determined and mitigated for the issues that might arise on their journey. However, would that be even possible today? With risk management one of the top buzzwords across corporate America today, can we even begin to envision the next hundred years achieving as much as we have in the past? As a project manager, I have seen countless cases of project failures and one area that is constantly focused on as a cause of the failure is risk management. We seem to think that we can prepare for every eventually and then create a plan to mitigate or defuse those risks. But at times, all we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Using the example of Apollo 11 again, we see that President Nixon had two speeches prepared, one for the success of the mission, and one if we never were to see those astronauts again.

Sometimes we need to realize we are not perfect and no matter how much risk management you put into a project there is no way you will be able to fully understand all of the risks that may arise. This is especially true for our ventures on the edge of possibilities. If we do not ignore the risk of taking a step over that edge, we will no longer be able to push the road of possibilities even further into the realm of the impossible. Risk management is a benefit to helping control costs, reduce failure, and keeping a project on what is usually a tight schedule to begin with but too much risk management is a risk unto itself. Is too much risk management holding you back from reaching the edge of possibility?