Many years ago, when my kids were young, it became my job to teach them how to ride a bike.  Across the street from our house was a baseball field.  We went out in the field and I put them on the bike.  I decided, on my own, to teach them how to fall off of the bike first- and then move on to the riding part.  I told them I was going to let go of the bike and they were going to fall, and then next I was going to get them started riding and they were supposed to purposely fall.  My wife thought I was crazy.  “You’re trying to teach them to ride, not fall” she said.  Had the Simpsons been more popular at that time I probably would have known to respond with a “DOH!!”  But I didn’t.  You see, I felt that if they were not afraid of falling then they would learn to ride quicker because they would know what to do when they fell.  I guess this was one of the ways I knew I would be better having a career in risk than in other disciplines.

Knowing how to fall and knowing how to react when you fall, are actually keys to success- not failure.  And this is where risk management can be so helpful.  Identifying what you want to do (ride the bike), identifying how good you are at it (experience), identifying what can make you fall (hazards), practicing falling (testing) and how  to survive the fall (reporting), provides the basis for reacting correctly and minimizing the damage when you do fall.

It’s easy within the field of risk to get wrapped up with standards and regulations.  These provide the rules and requirements, things that can be documented, for building and maintaining a risk program.  It seems like it is much harder to get people and organizations to realize and recognize the risks that are emerging or just around the corner.  So when risks turn into events, the unprepared organization doesn’t know how to react, and this can cause failure.

A few years later in New Mexico, when my kids were preteens, my son and I went out for a ride.  We were going down a steep hill when he crashed.  “Crashed” is a few steps above a “fall.”  He severely injured his right arm and leg, and his helmet had a one inch deep gash in it.  We were picked up by a passing car and taken to the ER, where he received a lot of stitches.

I’d like to think that teaching him to fall helped prepare him for the crash.  It’s a message I try to get across when talking about risk with executives and Boards.  Risk management exists to formalize and focus the thinking and planning around falling.  This is especially needed in today’s fast paced world.
Thinking about and planning to fall does not mean you are thinking about and planning for failure.  It means you realize that success is hard work and to be successful you will fall.  How you fall and how you recover are today’s keys to success.