how do we deal with risk

The other night I was meeting a friend for dinner in town. You know how sometimes when you get down to the tube platform it feels wrong? It felt wrong. Too many people, milling about with resigned looks, not purposefully waiting. Then the public announcement: “the Victoria line is suspended from Victoria to Walthamstow Central. There is a shuttle service operating between Brixton and Victoria.”

No train. No boards telling you when the next train is coming either. I have a choice: I can take the chance of waiting, hoping that if a train does come soon I might still be on time – but it might be ages; or I can go out and catch a bus – I will definitely be a bit late, but I know it will definitely come?

How do we deal with risk?

It’s a nice example of how we human beings deal with risk. I don’t know about you, but my thought process goes something like this. First I will take the higher risk option – perhaps partly because it is where I am.  As I wait, and nothing happens, I weigh up how late I am going to be if I catch the bus. At some point (if I am still waiting) I decide to cut my losses – either way I’m going to be late, so I opt for the more certain course and catch the bus.  This time, I waited 10 minutes before changing to Plan B, and was 20 minutes late. If I had changed immediately I would only have been 10 minutes late.

It’s not very rational – the sensible thing surely is to take the low risk option as early as possible, minimising the lateness, rather than just hoping that Plan A will avoid us being late at all, and then finishing up being later than we needed to be. But it seems to be human nature to take the optimistic view like this. Usually when we have to deal with risk there is some kind of pain threshold we have to exceed before we are willing to consider an alternative course, even though the sensible point to do so may have been much earlier. I don’t know how much unnecessary pain we suffer as a result, but I suspect it is significant!

Do you need help identifying the change options you have to deal with risk? Please get in touch.

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