Thoughts at the turn of the year: Dealing with risks

A man balances on a rope above a gorge.
Would you take a seat in the capsule of a rocket? Think about Artemis, NASAs new moon rocket, that just completed its first flight successfully. It is about 100 meters high, has a take-off weight of about 2,600 tons and requires 8 million liters of fuel. At time zero the fluid engines are ignited, about 5 seconds later ignite the solid rocket boosters. Shortly after liftoff, you can feel the sound waves, they shake you! The crew: Two mechanical dolls, one of them was provided by DLR, the German Space Agency. In the future, this rocket will transport astronauts to the moon and later also to Mars.

So - would you take a seat in this capsule?

The tolerance to take risks is a very personal affair. How far would you be ready to accept risks? How about in sports, in business or in gambling? There is also a national dimension regarding this question. For example, the cultural dimension to accept risks is higher in the USA when compared to Germany.

In projects, it is mandatory to identify risks to be adequately prepared. Risks can be identified, they must be analyzed, mitigation measures must be initialized to be prepared for potential problems. This process must be maintained throughout the whole project. Whenever risks evolve to problems – you are prepared.

However, this question has even a broader dimension because many companies are confronted with the question to accept agility. It deals with the courage to accept the risk delegating responsibility and accountability to teams. It also deals with the question, to proceed empirically and iteratively.  The issue is allowing the uncertainty or the risk not knowing exactly what the outcome is going to be.

Companies such as Apple or SpaceX have demonstrated that accepting such risks can yield huge benefits. Steve Jobs decided to market the iPhone 1, when many features and apps were developed only partly. By doing that, amongst others, he revolutionized the whole smartphone market worldwide. SpaceX tested “Starship”, the upper stage of the future mars-rocket more than 13 times, before the landing attempt was successful. Many times, it exploded during the approach or at landing.

So, when taking risks to try something new, it can work out, or it cannot. The question now is how to deal with failure. The mindset is the determining factor. Germany: It was a mistake, that has to be avoided at all costs at the next time. In the USA: We learned something that will bring us forward.

22,000 young European academic graduates or pilots have submitted their application in the latest selection of the new astronaut generation of ESA (European Space Agency). They answered my question above with “yes”! 17 were selected and 5 will start basic training in the EAC Astronaut Training Center in Cologne. One day, one of them may set his or her foot on the surface of the moon! 

My recommendation: Think about something in the New Year, that you haven’t done before. Try something, demonstrate your commitment to yourself and overcome the anxiety reflex. Whatever you try doesn’t play a major role, since you proved to yourself your courage. 

In the name of the IAPM I wish you a great New Year 2023 and the courage, to try new things, to learn from them and grow personally.

Dr. Hans Stromeyer, President IAPM
A picture of Hans Stromeyer.
Author: Dr Hans Stromeyer

Keywords: Project management, Commentary

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