Biggest Risk = Not Taking a Risk at All

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Mark Zuckerberg

In the public sector, everything is changing quickly – budgets are being tightened, baby boomers are starting to retire, technology needs from the public increase every day, and we are continued to be told to “do more with less.” Based on all this evidence:

  • Why does it feel that government is more risk adverse than ever?
  • Why aren’t we truly implementing new approaches to how we buy from shared in savings to no-cost ad models?
  • Why aren’t we trying innovative new approaches to furloughs and staffing cuts (such as voluntary sabbaticals or Netflix model of truly trimming the low performers)?

As noted in Zuckerberg’s quote, the biggest risk is not taking any risk when change is evolving quickly.

And as a government employee, you are perfectly set-up to take risks. I love this quote from the blog post “Risk Aversion and Job Security

“Now, if you had really strong job security – as most federal civilians do – you could afford to take a few risks, couldn’t you? So long as you aren’t committing an actual crime – what’s the worst that’s gonna happen to you? If your project doesn’t work or you make a mistake, you’re gonna come to work tomorrow and keep collecting the same pay. So why are federal civilians so unbelievably risk averse? “

Why do you think govies are so risk adverse?
How are you taking risks in your agency?

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Karla Brandau

Very interesting post. Very correct in conclusions. Take a risk…improve whatever you can…improve your corner of the team, agency, division, etc. and see the positive results. Here are some ideas on building creative thinking that can jump starting ideas for taking risks, the forerunner of innovation and growth. These ideas work for you as an individual, or for your team.

Kevin Lanahan

I don’t know that govies are particularly risk adverse. I think politicians and appointees may be, but not necessarily govies in general. I can take a look at the ideas on this site and from other government forums and see lots of innovative ideas getting put into practice.

But if leadership doesn’t reward risk and innovation, then govies aren’t going to innovate. If an agency is consumed with protecting its image it is not likely to take bold steps. Too many “leaders” don’t have much vision, don’t understand technology or other disruptive factors.

Some agencies are still struggling with social media. The only reason I can think of for that is that management doesn’t “get” social media, doesn’t use it, and doesn’t understand how it can help their agency. And they won’t let the agency use it if they don’t understand it.

Jennifer Bester

The ability to take risks while protected by the safety net of career status is why I will return to the government. Contractor life is only good for making money…opportunities to truly experiment with what has impact, builds teams or personally grow into a new role are non-existent.

John L. Waid

Remember that when we say “government” we are really talking about two distinct groups of people — the politicians (to whom we are all ultimately responsible) and civil service, whose goals are often not the same. People are constantly looking over their shoulder at the person above them, afraid of making a mistake that will get someone above them in trouble. As a result, people get ahead by imitating their superiors.

People at the top of the bureaucratic food chain look over their shoulders at the politicians to whom they report. The politicans looks over their shoulders at the voters. Doing what we have always done is safe. Government is a monopoly and has no competition and so does not have to focus on achieving some sort end. As a result, doing what we have always done covers our 6, which is, after all, the ultimate goal.

“Do More with Less.” (I don’t know who More and Less are, but it sounds like they are having a lot more fun than I am.) “Innovate.” These slogans are translated by the employees as “they are after my job.” Unfortunately, there is a rather large grain of truth in that impression. As a result, employees view innovations with suspicion. these are unfortunate facts. We wish things were not this way, but they are.

Managing an issue entails judgment. Judgment entails the risk that the result may get someone up the chain into hot water, especially if the result goes the political ox of someone farther up the chain. As a result, people prefer safety.


Love this quote John- “Do More with Less.” (I don’t know who More and Less are, but it sounds like they are having a lot more fun than I am.)

John L. Waid

The culture of fear is as old as government. Thousands of years of history and experience are not swept away in an instant. People don’t change their attitudes because we think they should.