Risk. How much is too much? Is there a time to ignore it?
I freely admit that as I’ve gotten older, my risk aversion has increased. Rarely in my youth did I consider risk at all and I am happy that I survived my twenties. (Those stories belong to a whole other blog.) But, there may be a case for ignoring it altogether.
I recently sat on a mobile health panel with a bunch of really intelligent, innovative entrepreneurs in the audience. They threw out all kinds of amazing ideas around using new technologies to solve our nation’s health problems.
Could we build a wearable band that would call 911 if the wearer was having a heart attack?
Or what if the band could sense if your elderly mother had taken her meds? Or had a fever? Or hadn’t gotten out of her chair for several hours?
All kinds of innovative thought flew about the room.
And every idea was shot down. Painstakingly. One by one. Not because of privacy concerns. But because of liability. Every entrepreneur in the room was fearful of being sued. And with reason. We spend over $30 billion per year on healthcare lawsuits and malpractice. And certainly, some of this is necessary because of egregious practices by a few healthcare professionals. It may even be that all of it is necessary. But, the risk aversion we have created in our society around lawsuits is preventing innovation in healthcare.
So, to come completely about-face, I agree that risk is necessary. And certainly, a high degree of risk requires sensitivity and calculation. Major consulting firms actually have algorithms that measure the risk of a project. If it’s too high, they pass or tack on a huge dollar figure to make it worth it. I see this in government all the time. If we’re willing to spend, say, an extra $50 million on an already too expensive project, many vendors will gladly take on extra risk.
But it’s not just about money. And sometimes, perhaps, we should just ignore the risk.
What if our forefathers had not risked war with Britain to become this great United States?
What if the Wright Brothers hadn’t been willing to risk their lives for flight?
What if the founders of – Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, You Name It – had not wanted to risk failure?
What if you could invent something that helped save lives at the risk of liability?
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Vivek Kundra, the first Chief Information Officer for the United States. I asked his advice on the best thing I could do in my position as Chief Technology Officer for Colorado. His answer?