Risk Mitigation – Meeting Adversity Head On

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Most people would agree that we have to take risks in life if we want to achieve success. As we’ve explored in our “Risk” series, we know that identifying and anticipating risks is a key step to fully understanding what the risks may be. When the potential impact of negative risks is significant, we should focus on risk mitigation strategies in order to lessen the impact and/or likelihood of these risk events. In our daily lives, we mitigate risks often, without necessarily knowing the terminology for it. For example, if we’re heading outdoors on a hot sunny day, we’ll typically bring a hat, sunscreen, and water to avoid the risk of sunburn or heatstroke. Those of us with small children know to mitigate long waits at the doctor’s office by bringing snacks, toys, books & maybe a favourite blanket or stuffed animal – anything to help the time go by more pleasantly. The popular saying, “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is certainly relevant when discussing risk mitigation.

Why mitigate at all?

Having a process in place to help us reach our goals means we need to be our own project managers; we’re in charge of seeing the end results realized. After listing the variety of potential risks we may face along our journey, the next thing to do is label potential risks as having a low, medium, or high probability of occurring. This way, we understand more about what we are dealing with and if – or how – it impacts our goal. It would be very unlikely, for example, that you’d encounter a bear on an early evening hike in June in Toronto, but it is very likely that you would encounter mosquitos, which is why you’d bring bug spray and not bear spray. Knowing the risks and what to expect is half the battle, as it takes the element of surprise away and put us into a more prepared and focused mindset. When we aren’t sure of the risks or their potential severity, it’s important to ask others for advice, or do some research of our own. Knowledge really is power when it comes to mitigating risks; although it doesn’t completely eliminate unexpected problems, it certainly reduces the negative impacts.

Facing risks – when knowledge is power

When we have to face a negative risk that has a high probability of occurring, we then need to either reduce the likelihood of it happening, or reduce the adverse effects. The main objective when facing high-risk probabilities is to first explore whether the particular negative risk can be completely avoided or transferred, while still achieving our objectives. This doesn’t mean pretending that the risks don’t exist or won’t happen to us however, it simply means that in certain situations, we can dodge a potential disaster or hand it over to someone else to deal with. Naturally, this isn’t always possible, which means we need to mitigate the risk by reducing the severity or the probability of its occurrence. The best risk mitigation strategies do both. Take the example of the child at the doctor’s office – if we can take them there after a nap and meal, avoid the peak busy times, as well as pack their comfort items, we have done a solid job of anticipating and reducing the severity of having a cranky, bored and unhappy child on our hands, in other words…crisis most likely averted.

In mountaineering, we often mitigate risks by controlling the time of day that we travel through certain sections when the ice is firmer and less likely to move, for example. Having the correct emergency equipment and training is another critical risk mitigation strategy. We know the likelihood of medical emergency is high, and since we can’t avoid it or transfer it to a medical professional in most cases, we need to address it and plan for it.

We can’t give up on our goals because of the risks, or we would accomplish very little in life. We humans are actually very good at strategizing – which is a key component of risk-mitigation. By addressing the potential threats that can get in the way of our goals face on, we not only get closer to achieving success, but we learn what to do the next time, whether it worked out well for us or not. We are tougher than we give ourselves credit for, and there’s not a lot we can’t handle when we plan for the worst, but expect the best.

Risk comes from not knowing what you’re doing. – Warren Buffet