When most people think about risk assessments or risk management: they think only of avoiding potential risks.  Sometimes, risk can also mean issues or problems.  But risk management has another important component: opportunity.  A thorough risk assessment will evaluate potential opportunities that can be exploited along with risks which can be avoided.

Dr David Hillson describes opportunities as positive risks.  In his book, “Effective Opportunity Management for Projects: Exploiting Positive Risk,” Dr. Hillson makes the case for full inclusion of positive risks in the process of risk assessment and management.

I could not agree more.  History is replete with examples of missed opportunity.   From the Beatles’ drummer before Ringo Starr to venture capitalists Battery Ventures, who turned down the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of Facebook, missed opportunities are as painful in retrospect as they can be elusive in foresight.

To minimize the chances of rueful reminiscence, we can choose to actively engage in the collection and management of potential opportunities.  In the world of decision support systems, we find remarkable tools to evaluate potential opportunities we think of during the qualitative portion of risk assessment.

Finding opportunities can be a bit tricky, in part because of the way our minds work.  In Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Kahneman discusses the anchoring and priming of the human mind.  Through these processes, future thoughts are strongly influenced by the thoughts and environment a person encounters just prior to a cognitive event.

If you come to a meeting primed to think about negative risks, it is less likely you will  generate opportunities.  Perhaps we should adopt a two session system, whereby risks are evaluated in one session and opportunities are evaluated in the next.