Everything these days seems to be about risk. In the media, we are bombarded by all sorts of information from around the world, the latest health research, climate change or events, the twists and turns of the economy, the behaviours and misbehaviours of our politicians, crime figures or incidents, diet and exercise, celebrity distractions – the list is almost endless. Never have we had so much, so readily accessible, or so often. But there is a problem. One of the very significant subtexts of these multiple messages is the propagation of a real or perceived threat of danger. Much of which is unhealthy, and we can all appreciate, how wildly worrying it all is for us and our families (young and old). Mental health awareness is ballooning, mental illness seemingly more evident, and anxiety levels are ever-present.
Too often, the reported risks to all our safety, security, lifestyles, health, finances, and communities are founded upon rocky research and statistics ground. We are told certain behaviours, like drinking wine, eating chocolate can double or halve a risk of whatever condition they are interested in that day. And low and behold, the next day, different research hypothesises the opposite view. Rarely do they qualify the research with sample sizes, or indeed the level of the initial risk being affected, which is often inconveniently infinitesimal.
It seems our social media influencers, press, and broadcasters cannot resist but to use every opportunity to promulgate their narrative. We used to be able to watch a weather forecast, and simply learn about the weather for the day. Nowadays, every single bulletin includes statistics about weather averages, with implied shock and awe when the current climate does not fall within such tightly defined parameters. They tell us about the risks of associated with UV, possible disruption to travel, the need to carry an umbrella, how we might fare by walking on potentially slippery pavements. Often, we are told to go outside at our own risk, and encouraged to stay in instead. It is almost like they are adopting the traditional role of a parent briefing an inexperience teenager as they dare to leave the house and venture into the dangerous world of the outside without a jacket.
At work, and in our lives, we have two choices. The first is to completely ignore what is happening out there and carry on regardless. That in itself is a very risky business. However, unbelievably, many do this. The subtle changes in the world around is politically, economically, socially, technologically, environmentally and legally (PESTLE) all connect with our leadership and management responsibilities. The second option is to carefully and frequently monitor the external world on all these factors, to analyse them, consider them, discuss them and reach sensible decisions that acknowledge risk and proportionately mitigate it. “How on earth do you know that?” I am asked frequently at work. I reply “because I scan the external environment”. I see it as essential in my role, and the desirable role of every other team member.
The experience of the pandemic has told us that the unthinkable and the extraordinary can happen. At that has been a very useful and serious lesson for all of us. But that was the latest in a long line of similar threats that did not manifest in the ways we were perhaps being led to believe. And it will not be the last. The danger though is our media and leaders seem to be chasing any occasion to be the ones that break a story, to be the first to call something out, to be the prophet of doom. This vanity project is running the real risk of causing more harm by making us all think the world is completely, totally, and inevitably dangerous and difficult. It is in part, and that is the challenge of life and work. But to cope better, given there is no sign our media is going to stop soon, is to make conscious choices about what and ow much we do take-in, with sceptical positivity, because the worst may just not happen. Like Bobby McFerrin famously sang “Don’t worry, be happy”.