Innovation is Risky! D’oh!

I love all of this talk about innovation because it always leads to discussing risk. I just watched Rita Gunter McGrath a professor at Columbia Business School talk about strategy and innovation in highly uncertain environments at DigitalNow: Association Leadership in a Digital Age. DigitalNow offered a free live stream option for its general sessions.

Dr. McGrath summarizes her view of complexity in her DigitalNow bio:

Complex organizations are far more difficult to manage than merely complicated ones. It’s harder to predict what will happen, because complex systems interact in unexpected ways. It’s harder to make sense of things, because the degree of complexity may lie beyond our cognitive limits.

My ears perked up when she talked about managing risk (or trying to manage uncertainty). She challenged our use of prediction when the world is unpredictable. Every decision has unintended consequences that may lead to failure or unexpected outcomes. But McGrath encourages us to from these “intelligent failures” to improve our decisions.

My favorite subject was Dr. McGrath discussion of resource trade-offs suggesting that redundancy and stockpiled resources are our friend. As the business continuity professionals and Dr. McGrath says: “Time is your friend before a disaster and your enemy afterward.” She followed with “we also over-invest in prevention and under-invest in resilience.” From a risk management perspective I couldn’t agree more. So many associations only focus on preventing a loss from occurring but don’t consider how to respond to the actual event. For example, most associations lack risk management plans for succession, business continuity/disaster recovery, and crisis management and communication. This DigitalNow tweet sums it up (Follow the discussion on Twitter #diginow12)

We all agree that innovation is risky but we don’t do much to manage the risks other than trying to avoid it. If we do nothing we can avoid the risks of innovation. But social media shows us that the greater risk is to do nothing. If associations continue to maintain things as they are we lose our relevance and meaning to the point where we may ultimately die.

The appropriate use of various risk management techniques increases our chances for success. As we evaluate our options we both control or reduce the risks and maximize the opportunities. Our decision may be wrong but with proper planning and analysis we experience an “intelligent failure” instead of a catastrophe.

Risk control techniques let us avoid, prevent or reduce the loss. Building redundancy into our systems and processes (especially information technology) reduces the size of the loss. Back-up of electronic data and software provide redundancy while the use of hosted sites and the cloud segregate your loss exposures (a loss at your office doesn’t affect the hosted sites) and enable a rapid recovery.

So I’ll continue to beat the drum for associations to incorporate risk management into its daily operations and innovative efforts. The identification, analysis and mitigation of risks are crucial to your success and growth as an organization. Risk management is not a separate activity done by a committee but integral to all of your operations, strategic and tactical. Risk management has evolved into an enterprise-wide activity. As Dr. McGrath said associations are complex organizations requiring new management systems and methods. Incorporating enterprise risk management (ERM) in your association helps you with this new complexity.

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  1. #1 by Jay S. Daughtry on May 1, 2012 - 12:51 pm

    Why don’t we plan more for worst-case scenarios instead of simply hoping they don’t happen? Leslie, I like your take on evaluating options and planning. We may discover opportunities and avoid disaster in the process. Thanks for sharing your insights!

    • #2 by Leslie White on May 1, 2012 - 3:37 pm

      Jay,
      I wish I knew why people won’t plan or even think about the worst case scenario. Perhaps human nature. Thanks for commenting.

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