The risk of developing a blood clot from your Covid vaccine was a top story this week after some vaccination programmes were halted because of the link between the two. And while the real risk is debatable it made me think about risk in general. Risk is hard to determine, it implies uncertainty and differs so much from one person to another. Can we have one approach for everyone?
South Africans can’t be blamed to think that the blood clot threat is just a handy excuse to halt the SA vaccination programme that is already struggling to gain momentum. Even when the risk is minimal, however, when it is you or a loved one that becomes part of the statistics, the risk is not so easy to dismiss. But what exactly is risk? How do we define it?
One simple definition of risk is basically that it is the possibility of something bad happening. “Risk involves uncertainty about the effects/implications of an activity with respect to something that humans value (such as health, well-being, wealth, property or the environment), often focusing on negative, undesirable consequences. Many different definitions have been proposed. The international standard definition of risk for common understanding in different applications is “effect of uncertainty on objectives”. Read more.
Essential to this definition is the focus on uncertainty. Lately you can’t tell us anything about uncertainty! It is such a troublesome concept! It makes us hesitate, it makes us afraid and vulnerable, but…. it also keep things interesting and differentiates those who play it safe from those who dare. But risk is not all about being daring. Being good at taking risks is not about being stupid and brave, it is all about being calculated.
You might feel that your age puts you at too high a risk to venture out in public during times of Covid and therefore you stay home. Yes, you might be vulnerable, but being able to make a decision based on your information and experience, makes you less vulnerable – less vulnerable to the actual risk, but also less vulnerable to the uncertainty. It can be quite empowering when you can determine the risk and make the decision. Can we be trusted to determine risk? While uncertainty is at the heart of risk, conceptualising, calculating and formulating the uncertainty into terms and concepts that you are knowledgeable about can make you feel confident about making a prediction. It can motivate you to take a risk when you feel that, according to your experience and knowledge, there is less uncertainty.
But how do you measure and manage risk? The International Organization for Standardization provides principles and generic guidelines for organisations to manage risks – the ISO 31000. These guidelines acknowledge a very important “paradigm shift” in the definition of risk and how it is conceptualised. According to these guidelines the definition of risk is no longer “chance or probability of loss”, but “effect of uncertainty on objectives”. The word “risk” therefore has a reference to positive consequences of uncertainty, as well as negative ones. Read more. Risk can hold promise and the uncertainty then becomes a challenge and an opportunity.
We can’t avoid risk. All actions and decisions have results and effects and regardless of its importance or danger, risk is a determining factor in decision-making – from investments to ordering shoes online to trying an unknown bottle of wine. You have to weigh up the possible positives to the possible negatives, determine the risk and decide whether it’s worthwhile. Whether it is worthwhile, has been a question on the lips of many Cape wine farmers. Can you really blame someone who feels financially vulnerable for uprooting old vines to replace with more profitable fruit trees? Other than financial uncertainty, wine grape farming is all about taking risks. At the time of planting, you are considering volumes and styles and popular varieties for the future. It is the uncertainty that is the biggest challenge. You can take the risk and hit the jackpot or the decision can ruin you. You can play it safe and survive but stay mediocre… High risk can bring high reward, but whether we are up for it, I believe, is based on our vulnerability.
Understanding another’s reaction to risk is not always that easy. Your response to risk might seem ridiculous to others – whether it is about the vaccine or investing in a scheme, whether you are afraid of the risk or too eager to embrace it… Because risk can be so personal, it might be about respecting someone’s reaction, rather than understanding It. Few of us are experts when it comes to risk management, but when empowered with true information, I still think it should be up to everyone to determine their own reaction to risk, rather than a blanket approach.