Unnecessary Risks

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” – Muhammad Ali

I’ve written in the past about how we need to embrace and even seek out risk at times.  Since I used American Football to discuss the topic before, I thought I’d continue the discussion with an example of poor risk management from this past weekend’s games.

You may remember me saying that you wanted your quarterback to get sacked once in a while, as proof that you are not over-investing in protecting the QB.  But context is important here.  Let’s break down the final minutes of a game played this past weekend between Houston and Indianapolis.

Sage Rosenfels, a backup quarterback, had played well for 45 of the game’s 60 minutes.  His team, the Houston Texans, led the opposition by 17 points, what would be considered in most circles a comfortable lead.  Generally an offense dials down its tolerance for risk in a situation like this.  Rosenfels did not necessarily get that memo.  When his opponent started a comeback (cutting the lead to ten points, still requiring two opponent scores to secure a tie or victory), Rosenfels began taking reckless risks.  The savvy Indianapolis Colts made his team pay for each one.  First, Rosenfels ran on a play instead of throwing, and in an ill-advised attempt to move the ball a few yards more, dove forward directly towards the defensive players.  The resulting hit jarred the ball loose, and the Colts scored shortly thereafter.

Now, with the game much closer (3 points!), again Rosenfels had the chance to slow the game down, eat up the clock, and secure a narrow victory.  Instead, he was rattled, driven from the pocket, and sacked, again losing the ball to a hard hit.  Again, Indianapolis scored.  Now, the team that had been comfortably ahead for 3/4 of the game was behind by 4 points with short minutes to play.  With all momentum gone, the crowd turning on them, and their opponent smelling blood, they had no chance.  Rosenfels made one last daring attempt, now required to take giant risks in order to have a chance, and for a third time the opposing team took the ball away and secured a victory.

Houston lost the game and Rosenfels lost his chance to prove himself.

If your project is on time, progressing well, with awesome quality metrics and good reports from beta sites … perhaps it’s not the right time to refactor your database layer for a 5% performance improvement.

Managing risk, knowing when to put everything on the line for a win and when to dial it back and grind out the clock, is a big part of knowing how to succeed.  You don’t want to be overconfident, secure in your market position and thinking you can maintain status quo because of it (see: Internet Explorer before Firefox).  But you also don’t want to take your success and put it at the whims of one risky play (or three…).