I recently returned from an incredible adventure with my two girls sailing in the Kimberley region of the Western area. It is so remote that it took us nearly five days of sailing to get there and another five days to get home again. In between, we had some truly unique and special experiences that I have no doubt we will look back on for the rest of our lives.
We live in a world where genuine adventures seem to be harder and harder to come by. This is because a real sense of adventure requires certain elements to be present. First, there needs to be a sense of discovery, the ability to explore something unknown or experience something unfamiliar. Second, real adventure must contain an element of risk.
The challenge is that the unknown and the unfamiliar have become increasingly rare commodities in our world. Finding places that are truly off the beaten track has become harder as roads and transportation links have gotten better and information more freely available. We also live in an increasingly risk-averse society. Even if we go to visit a previously unexplored part of the world (or at least unexplored by us) we can pre-arrange accommodation and transfers, read reviews or book an all inclusive 10-day tour. Now I appreciate that there are a select few out there who shun such comforts but my feeling is that this has become very much the norm.
So in planning and preparing for this trip, and faced with this uncertainty, it was interesting to see how my girls responded. But perhaps what was most interesting was seeing an incredible parallel between how they responded and how people in business respond to the unfamiliar as well.
The first part of the response is an over-analysis and over-statement of risk. In our early family conversations there was a lot of concern about crocodiles, getting sea sick, falling over the side of the boat, getting sun burnt and even being bored on such a long trip. Some of these were genuine concerns and there was value in ensuring that high impact risks were adequately managed but it was also true that these risks were given significantly more air play that they ultimately warranted.
The second part of the response is to understate the benefits. Did we really need to go to such a remote and inhospitable place? Is it really THAT special? Wouldn’t they have just as much fun going camping? Again, some of these are reasonable questions to ask but the reality is without personal experience we generally struggle to imagine something dramatically different from what we already know.
The combination of these two responses is that by systematically overstating the risks and underestimating the benefits of doing things differently, we subtly reinforce the status quo. In fact ‘risk’ has increasingly become a rational for inaction even when the risks of inaction may in fact be higher than risks associated with well considered change.
I’ve written before about the trade off between execution risk and strategic risk. Change projects unavoidably carry with them a certain level of execution risk: the risk involved in moving from one way of doing things to another. But generally these types of risks can be contained and managed and as we do more change projects we get better at them and the risk reduces over time. On the other hand, the strategic risk associated with not changing – the risk that our organisation becomes increasingly out of sync with its operating environment and no longer either provides the goods and services or operated in a way that the market values – is always going to be large and always going to be difficult to manage.
For me, this is the difference between improvement projects which involves small execution risks, and transformation project which involve large strategic risks. In fact research by McKinsey suggests that the strategic risks of transformation projects are so high that only 16% of them result in sustained change over the long term.
The truth is that although it might be more adventurous than most holidays, my sailing trip through the Kimberleys was not a trip into the complete unknown. I had been there once before myself, we were with my parents who had done the trip at least half a dozen times and while we were there we saw at least a dozen other boats go in and out of the King George River. In fact this reminds me of the quote by William Gibson ‘the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’. Although this was an adventure into the unknown for my two girls, it was something that many had already experienced (and survived) before them.
As I said, real adventure is hard to come by, but we don’t need to BASE jump into an active volcano to grow and learn as people and we don’t need to completely restructure our organisations to maintain our market relevance. We just need to be willing to continually push ourselves to take calculated risks and continue to explore our unknowns.
Whether you’re looking for one-off short courses or longer term support within a community of like-minded organisations, the Digital Champions Club is committed to helping its clients maximise the returns and avoid the risks of digital transformation.
I’ll be facilitating immersive two-day intensives on the dates listed below. In this insanely practical two-day program, you will not only learn the framework and a suite of simple tools for use back in your organisation, you will leave with a real world, value-adding project to complete over the next couple of months.
Digital Champions Two-Day Intensive
4 – 5 SEPTEMBER | MELBOURNE
15 – 16 OCTOBER | SYDNEY