21 September 2006

The Risk of Risk

I'm on leave for a few days, and took the opportunity to return a bunch of bottles and cans to the grocery story this morning. Three dollars and twenty-five cents richer, I paused to read the small print on the redemption machine.

As you can see in the photo above, it says "Caution: Do not insert flammable or toxic materials as they may result in a risk of fire or personal injury."

Might result in a risk? How about "might result in a fire" or "might hurt someone"? Sadly, it seems the Timid Good (see the Boomer Sisters book) has struck again, warning people about the possibility of risk, as if risk is the issue.

I mention this because I've come across this upside-down perspective on risk all too often. Process-oriented modernist progam managers, leaders and technologists look at risk as something inherently bad, to be avoided at all costs (and apparently believe risk can be avoided). Don't do X, or there might be a risk, they say. Before long, I'm sure someone will write a book about "the risk of risk." Ugh!

(I love my new camera phone, btw!)


Passante said...

Think it out before writing it down? What a novel idea. By the coffee pot in my office is an ancient sign that says "Fill water to the 10 cup level." Fill water? I thought you needed to fill the pot.

Dan said...

Yes, there is certainly that aspect of this label. It's just bad thinking, captured in words.

However, it's precisely that "bad thinking" that concerns me. I'm afraid the wording was deliberate, not simply sloppy grammer or bureaucratese. I think someone is trying to avoid the risk of incuring a risk.