Pillows, pancakes, risks: There isn't much under the sun that can't be made new or better by flipping it over and checking out the other side.
Too many of us are satisfied when we spend time identifying risks and opportunities, but that leaves us incomplete. The word "opportunity" is restrictive, when used as an antonym of risk: "opportunity" focuses us on existing opportunities, and reduces the search for positive risks -- opportunities that aren't yet but might be. Contingencies.
The drama of the current Presidential Campaign and Supreme Court ruling on healthcare provide a case study. This is a professional, not a political blog. The value of this story is in understanding excellence in risk management, and is independent of the underlying politics.
On June 28, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the big healthcare case. The outcome of that case energized voters in both liberal and conservative bases. Fortunately for Team Romney, some digital wonks in their employ had thought carefully about positive risks, and were ready to capitalize on the decision.
Political columnist Ed Morrissey (at his blog, Hot Air) provided the details of this inside look into IT planning and management decisions -- made months ago -- that allowed the Mitt Romney campaign to increase their Web traffic and donations 20 fold in the hours after the big healthcare decision from the Supreme Court on June 28.
All good campaigns now have a quick response team. When news breaks out, campaigns need to be ready with a press release, a video and a tailored message. Romney's team integrated that pure campaign work -- the business end, if you will -- with necessary backend planning and infrastructure. Consider what Romney's campaign and digital teams were ready to do, working together, when opportunity knocked:
1. In less than an hour, the campaign website went from 8 to 24 servers. No frantic meetings. No decision making. They executed on a prepared plan against a positive risk.
2. Within minutes, a 4-minute message was crafted to the occasion, tailored to specs from key activists, and delivered and recorded from a photo-perfect vantage near the Capitol. Just lots of advisors, lots of key contacts, and brilliant writers at the ready, right? Wrong. They also had video-tech teams, location scouts with immediate access to the perfect locale and necessary AV equipment. And an audience to boot.
3. Old policy positions and the new video were distributed by pre-determined channels to as many contacts as possible. Digital delivery was both push and pull, using the lowest cost methods available to control the message. They didn't start from scratch.
The result was a 5-fold increase in Web traffic, a 20-fold increase in campaign contributions, and a massive capture of new names for the Rolodex. And it all happened because they were ready.
The human brain just isn't wired to look for potential good news. It is far more important to know you're about to get hit by a bus, than to know you might win the lottery. So how can you help your team seriously consider positive risks?
1. On your project risk registers, record whether each risk is positive or negative. Check your own registers, recently. Do they even have positive risks?
2. Seed the register with positive risks (it's not too hard -- there are always some).
3. When you periodically update the register, always note "we haven't added any new positive risks, lately. Are we missing something?"
4. When a positive contingency occurs that the team hadn't planned for, call that out as a Lesson Learned. Why did we miss this, guys?
5. Frequently modify the word risk as "negative risk." This little verbal nudge will direct your teams toward a culture that acknowledges and thinks seriously about positive risks.
You might as well try it. What could go right?