Act Sooner

A good plan now is better than a great plan later.  Perceived risk causes delay.

People make a mistake when they treat risk as an absolute.  Like most of life’s conditions, risk is a spectrum.

At one end are situations that are highly probable, high cost, and irreversible once encountered.  Sudden death of a young person riding a motorcycle at 200 miles per hour on a wet road, for example.  A the other end are improbable, low cost and reversible events.  I forgot my coat at the restaurant.

The rest fall somewhere between.

There is huge difference between calculated risk and rashness.  Most risk is manageable.  A karate sensei once told me that the best defense is to be somewhere else.  Avoid situations you cannot influence or ones that are high cost and irreversible.

There is a secret to managing risk.  You must discover that knowing more about the conditions does not proportionally increase the quality of your decision.  The unknown is always there and so the risk is always there.  There is no 100% answer. Ever.

Begin with the conditions that should be present to make a perfect decision.  Both what you need to know and what you can do.  Suppose there are ten.  Of the ten, you might know seven.  One you cannot access because you do not know it exists.  Another you cannot access because you have a certain mindset that hides the nuance.  Male versus female viewing point for example.  What you know about one of the others is wrong.

70% right is probably a stretch goal and if you are to act, you must deal with that unknown thing that is so uncomfortable.

Knowing that you will always know too little, make and implement candidate decisions.  Baby steps.  Things that are inexpensive and easy to reverse.  Doing so implies the need to monitor your decisions.  Most will be wrong, but the benefit is the knowledge gained from error.  Be willing to admit error and move on to something else.

Senior military people beginning acting when they know about 40% of what they think is the whole data set.  Sometimes they will do things that are for the sole purpose of learning.  What will the enemy do if I do this?  Learning intent and capability of the enemy is important.

Risk is closely allied with fear and fear is an enemy.  Fear of uncertainty is a near terminal blemish in many aspects of life.  The inability to act even in small ways will prohibit solving uncertain situation.

Increase your own capability to help defuse risk.  That growth is either knowledge or skill.  Managed risk involves knowing your own abilities and knowing the potential outcomes of the situation.  Respect both and stay within the boundaries of what you can do and what you can live with for a response.

Recall the 1973 movie, Magnum Force and Dirty Harry’s dictum:

A man’s got to know his limitations.

Decide and act.  Win or learn.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is now with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

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