Positive Risks & How to Maximize Opportunities

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After exploring the various aspects of risk-taking and mitigating risks, there’s another area that we need to consider – positive risks. We typically think of risks as hazardous, unwelcome events that negatively impact our goals. However, in every endeavour or project we undertake, we should also be on the lookout for positive risks or opportunities. We tend to get so focused on preparing for the worst that we neglect to consider what good things can also arise.

Defining the difference

Just like negative risks, positive risks are uncertain events or occurrences that have a probability associated with them. When we think about risks, we strive to define or control any potential negative outcomes. However, if we re-frame and consider the positive risks and the potential for additional rewards as well, we open up more possibilities that can help us achieve our goals, and thus gain a whole new perspective.

Positive risks are very much like those unexpected surprises or silver linings that we often refer to. However, instead of being unplanned and unexpected, we can factor in a probability of a positive risk occurring. It’s important to note that a positive event that we know for certain is going to happen, is currently happening or that has already happened, is not considered a positive risk simply because it’s inevitable, and in this scenario, it’s just good fortune.

Capitalize & maximize outcomes

The reason why we want to think about and identify positive risks is so that if they occur, we’re in a position to capitalize on them and take action. We are in the driver’s seat, taking control and anticipating all possible outcomes – not just the negative risks. When a positive risk happens, we want to be in a position to respond by either exploiting the opportunity, sharing the opportunity, enhancing the opportunity, escalating the opportunity or simply accepting the opportunity.

The project perspective

When considering projects or specific goals, positive risks are potential events that we identify that, should they occur, increase the chances of success of the project. Take an example of a construction project. A good project manager will analyze the probability of the many factors that could delay the project, such as equipment failure, weather, material delays, human error, and so on. An even better project manager would also factor in the probabilities associated with positive risks and look for opportunities to take advantage of. For instance, if the weather is sunny and perfect for an entire month when typically there’s a 20% chance of rain delays, then the probability of the project being completed early goes up. That, in turn, would mean budget savings, more time allocated to planning other projects, an enhanced company reputation, and maybe even a few days off for the hard-working staff. These are positive risks that can only be maximized when properly planned for.

In mountaineering there are several examples of positive risks. For example, there may be a period of calm winds or an opportunity to collaborate with another team. We can’t necessarily expect or plan that these will happen, but if they do, it increases the chance of success. As careful risk managers, we try to identify them beforehand so that if they do occur, we’re in a position to capitalize on them. If the event is sure to happen, we don’t consider it a risk, just a positive or negative reality that we’ll have to deal with. In essence, risks have to have a probability associated with them (which we would estimate from our research, historical data, etc.)

When positive risks become negative

Finally, a positive risk can actually become a negative risk if not properly managed. There are examples of businesses that put money into a large advertising campaign, only to gain so many customers that they did not have resources or infrastructure to manage the demand and workload, and then ended up losing those customers…and the revenue. The positive risk of having their advertising work out well for them became a very negative experience for everyone involved because of the lack of planning.

The next time you have a goal, project or adventure you plan to embark on, do just that, and plan…for the various risks (both negative and positive) that could possibly arise. Then, think each scenario through to the end to come up with ways you can mitigate the troublesome risks, and maximize the positive ones. Your chances of success grow each time you face those risks with foresight, resourcefulness and courage. Get out there and go after those dreams – you’ve got exactly what it takes.

It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult. – Seneca