Businesses’ Greatest Risk Is The One They Never See

In The Fifth Risk, author Michael Lewis explores the seen and unseen functions that otherwise unconsidered government bureaucracies perform to keep the business of daily life ticking over uninterrupted. The titular risk, the one that preoccupies the author and, by the end of the book, the reader, is the risk that these agencies do not account for out of a failure of imagination, political will, or steady refusal to believe that things could go so uniquely and spectacularly wrong. What we see and experience is easy to wrap our minds around, and so we focus on the tangible and let the fantastical slip from our thinking. 

Risk, and risk mitigation, is always a topic of consideration for any business, but it has a particular primacy in the face of the lingering pandemic. And the risk we’ve been forced to grapple with — the insidiousness of the spread of coronavirus and its effects on our health and the health of those close to us — is not one that the average business can say it was suitably prepared for. We’re prepared for financial and economic crises, because money is the organizing concept of business, and thus we have to plan for less fortuitous circumstances. And while the coronavirus has precipitated a recession and potential depression, it’s under circumstances that no one would have predicted at the outset of the year, at least not in a way that would have been taken seriously then.

And so businesses are left to deal with the fallout of an unexpected public health disaster — one that seems unlikely to go away in the near term — and consider what might be learned from this period in history. It would be easy to view the coronavirus period as an outlier, something so unique that it would be impossible to take lessons from, given the once-in-a-lifetime nature of what’s unfolded. But while the contours of the crisis itself might be unique, world-disrupting events aren’t. We can draw on our usual crisis management and risk mitigation skills. 

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