Scoble: Death by Risk Aversion

Scoble has a post today about the widespread corporate fear of the new. He says:

I present to a lot of corporations. Everywhere I go I smell the fear. People are scared to do something different.

His post was inspired by this excellent post by Kathy Sierra. Among many good points she makes is the following:

Sometimes managers are putting the best interests of the company first. That’s great–they’re often more experienced and have a better grasp of the bigger context. But (and it’s a really big but) sometimes they’re just worried about their own damn job.

Both of these quotes are completely consistent with my experiences. In fact, in one of my 2006 predictions posts I talked about this exact issue, oddly enough in the context of Microsoft Office’s move towards the web:

Yes, Microsoft Office will be more “web like,” which is a very good thing, but no major corporation (and certainly no law or accounting firm) is going to allow mass storage of documents online for two reasons: one, liability; two, the fear of a bad decision (“if it’s always been done this way and I keep doing it this way, I’m not responsible if it doesn’t work; but if I change how it’s done and it doesn’t work, I’m toast”- I’ve actually had clients say this very thing to me before on more than one occasion).

riskaversionActually, I can’t count on two hands the times I have heard this spiel in one form or another. The safest decision for the fearful manager will always be the status quo. If the status quo isn’t possible, then the easiest choice will be the thing that is the most consistent with the status quo. With innovation or a change in direction comes responsibility and with responsibility comes risk. And many corporate managers are taught, not by the company, but through their experiences and observations, to be risk averse above all other things.

People believe that if they can get what they want while making someone else responsible for the decision, they are much safer in the corporate environment. At the crossroads of safety and innovation, safety wins almost all the time.

I agree that a company is better served by people who are willing to make decisions, seek innovation and take responsibility. But I think it’s going to be very hard to change this behavior without a significant paradigm shift in corporate training, management and advancement.