Mitigating Ingenuity Risk

In our most recent newsletter [link to last article] we showed how crowdsourcing can be a beneficial way to generate innovative solutions to your most vexing problems.  While we stand by our original thoughts, we recently encountered several examples that demonstrate the inherent risks involved.  Consider this:

Just last month, a British government agency unveiled plans to introduce a new research vessel to its fleet.  The ship is scheduled to be launched sometime in 2019.  As a way to engage a broader audience in all things environmental, the agency decided to allow its supporters to suggest names for the ship and vote on which one they liked best.   They thought the activity would help them identify which explorers or endeavors most interested the public, expecting a flood of votes for names of the revered such as the RRS David Attenborough, RRS Ernest Shakleton, or The Guardian of the Seas.

So, imagine their surprise when the public’s top choice (by a landslide) was the entry of James Hand, who suggested the name “Boaty McBoatface”. 

Yes, foolproof plans seldom account for the ingenuity of people that wish to derail best intentions and desired outcomes.

Alas, the ship-naming debacle is hardly the only case of crowdsourcing gone wrong.  Consider Taylor Swift’s VH1 poll that selected a school for the deaf as a concert venue.  Or a footbridge in Slovakia named after Chuck Norris.  And while the British government now says it reserves the right to select a different name, the episode serves as a lesson to us all to anticipate problems and avoid such mishaps in our own intentions.  Business examples, too, are plentiful from incentive programs that mistakenly incent the wrong behaviors to corporate credit cards with insufficient purchasing controls.   Here are some practical tips for any organization planning to release new products, policies or strategies.

  1. Ask What Could Go Wrong: The Overconfidence Trap is one of the most common cognitive biases plaguing corporate leaders. So, once you have developed your implementation strategy, take a moment to do some risk mitigation.  Simply asking “What Could Go Wrong?’ prompts a negative brainstorm that identifies potential pitfalls before they derail your project.
  2. Develop Preventive Actions: Armed with your list of potential problems, think about what might be the root causes of those problems and then develop a list of preventive actions to neutralize them. This greatly reduces the likelihood of stressful surprises taking the time and focus away from your main objective.  As the famous saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  3. Develop Minimizing Actions: While the preventive actions will be your key to success, there is always a chance that the “what could go wrongs” will still happen.  So, take time to plan in advance what you will do should the problems arise, and who will be responsible for the resolution.  The advance planning can keep an infant ember from becoming a raging fire.

At Action Management, we have over 35 years of experience helping our clients develop effective plans that smooth the rough edges of project implementations.  If your organization is looking for ways to assure your project doesn’t turn into a fool’s errand, give us a call at 800-386-5611!  We’d love to help.

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