Risk and Change

Risk-Change Matrix

People love control and abhor chaos.  Yet most of our daily lives are filled with uncertainty and change.  The first step to maintaining a sense of order amidst the chaos is awareness of change and awareness of the type of uncertainty (risk) with which you are faced.  An understanding of the current state of your environment will inevitably benefit you in your quest for control.

To aid awareness of the chaos-control state of your environment, we can use the simple matrix shown here.

Type of Environment

Type of Risk

Static

Dynamic

Deterministic

1. Certain, stable state

“Business as Usual”

3. Certain, changing state

“Transformation”

Stochastic

2. Uncertain, stable state

“Non-linear”

4. Uncertain, changing state

“Chaos”

Risk is broken down into two types: deterministic and stochastic. Actions and decisions in a state of deterministic risk produce outcomes that are linked to past and present known behaviors in the system. In other words, future system behavior can be predicted with certainty based on the knowledge of previous outcomes. We label this state’s risk as “certain” but one must realize that this is an extreme case. Nothing is ever certain but to serve the purpose of this matrix we assume that this deterministic state can exist.

Stochastic risk is risk that has uncertain outcomes, outcomes that are not necessarily linked to past history of events or occurrences. Probability does play a role in the stochastic state. Expected outcomes can be used in decision making with the understanding that the past does not play a strong predictive role in system behavior. One can look at this state as one of a complex, non-linear system. Decisions and actions can cause completely unexpected system behavior.

Environment is also broken down into two types: stable and dynamic. Stable environments do not change in the short to medium term. Drivers of a business’s state are relatively constant. For example, an industry’s competitors, customers, and suppliers are not undergoing major changes or shifts in relative power.

Dynamic environments are undergoing major changes that could be caused by industry consolidation of suppliers, customers, and/or competitors. Other drivers of dynamic environments are disruptive technologies that enable disintermediation or cause obsolescence of particular products or services.

Looking at the 2×2 matrix formed by type of risk and type of environment, we see four possible states for a business at any one time.

1.   Certain, stable state

  • Future system behaviors can be predicted by prior, historical behaviors
  • No disruptive change is occurring on the business’s landscape
  • “Business as usual” characterizes this type of environment

2.   Uncertain, stable state

  • Future system behaviors cannot be predicted by knowledge of past responses to decisions and actions
  • No disruptive change is occurring on the landscape
  • “Non-linear” characterizes this environment

3.   Certain, changing state

  • Future system behaviors can be predicted by prior, historical behaviors but only on a short time horizon given the dynamic, changing industry state
  • Disruptive change is occurring on the business landscape that might or might not be caused by an executive’s own business
  • “Transformation“ characterizes this environment

4.   Uncertain, changing state

  • Future system behaviors cannot be predicted by knowledge of past responses to decisions and actions
  • Disruptive change is occurring on the business landscape that might or might not be caused by an executive’s own business
  • “Chaos” characterizes this environment and presents the greatest challenge to an executive’s decisions and actions to be taken by an organization

Where do you see your business?  Would others agree with you?  How do you conduct your daily life and under what assumptions about the state of your business? Where are you the most comfortable?  Where are you the least comfortable? Is your business properly prepared to thrive in its current state? What about your competitors?

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