Risk and reward

Words:
Eleanor Young

Embrace the knocks – they’ll make you stronger. It’s a compelling theory

Too many organisations practise risk avoidance, without taking advantage of the way that dealing with small risks strengthens an organism. Risk is planned for. But you can’t plan contingencies for all the crazy things – banking crisis, global warming, inter­national epidemics, volcanic ash cloud, molasses, flood – that could happen to your business or your project, however robust your risk register might appear. There are things that ‘gain from disorder’ – ‘antifragile’ in the thinking of risk philosopher and author of Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Jane Jacobs’ ideas of neighbourhood gain from disorder. Robert Moses’ urban renewal one-liners are contrastingly fragile

Analysis

So why are modest-sized shocks a good thing? Shocks, knocks or stressors are all information; reacting to them means you are learning. So a practice used to stress might be one doing a school project here and an office ­refurb there, used to switching and getting to know sectors and clients. The opposite is a firm subsumed by designing large hospitals which, when a government programme is suddenly shut down, struggles to turn staff into entrepreneurs to find work elsewhere.

So the popular refrain of problems being ‘character building’ could hold more than a grain of truth. In urbanism the thinking that gains from disorder is that of Jane Jacobs on the importance of neighbourhood, set against the fragile one-liners of New York’s Robert Moses on urban renewal and Le Corbusier’s tabula rasa. There might be lessons for government too. Taleb gives the example of Switzerland, which by encouraging arguments and occasional bloodletting at local Canton level stops these issues being  contested at state level. Try applying the same thought process to neighbourhood planning where, in theory, many local debates might defuse the national hot potato of planning mass housebuilding.

Options

To make the best of disorder, maybe even to become one of the antifragile, the prescription is ‘Less is more and usually more effective’, writes Taleb paraphrasing Mies. It’s a personal philosophy that is relaxed about how to live in a world we don’t understand – in which we are not afraid to work with things that we ­patently don’t comprehend. 

Read the original: AntiFragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Penguin, £8.99


MORE RISKY READING

Risk: an Introduction: the concepts of risk, danger and chance, Bernardus Ale, Routledge, £19.99

Managing Project Risk: Best Practices for Architects and Related Professionals James B Atkins and Grant A Simpson, Wiley, £50


 

Internal Management
Internal Management

Latest

South Africa’s housing crisis puts the UK’s in the shade. Joseph Noero takes a practical approach to his mission to change that

Simple, affordable Table House has huge potential to improve lives

RIBA Royal Gold Medal winner famed for buildings such as the Olivetti offices, Fountains Abbey visitor centre and the Downland Gridshell among others; teacher, collaborator and known above all for his inclusive, optimistic approach

Hugely influential designer, teacher and Royal Gold Medallist

Architect Tom Bennett explains why the urgency of arresting climate crisis leaves him no alternative but to get involved – seriously

One architect on why climate activism is worth a criminal record

Profits flatline in the RIBA Business Benchmarking 2019 survey despite bigger workloads for architects bringing in more revenue

Employment is up, so is international work – the results of RIBA’s Business Benchmarking survey

The latest Cupa Pizarras ventilated slate cladding features vertical rectangles ideal for the clean lines of modern projects

Slate cladding in vertical rectangles is the perfect fit