The chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re an experienced professional in your industry, and if you’re not, I’d wager strongly that you are probably are but in denial as to your own abilities. Collectively, you have a huge wealth of highly valuable skills on which to base decisions upon. Yet, I’d also wager that most of you rely on external sources of information in your decision-making process.
We do this in a conscious way and think of it as validation or collaboration. It is indeed both of these things, but it is also something much more significant—it is the offshoring of risk. You are sampling opinions and making decisions based on that information. Sometimes we do this to help reinforce a decision that we wish to make but need supporting evidence to provide us with intellectual insurance. On other occasions, we do this to support a case for doing the exact opposite. In both cases, you’re arming yourself just in case everything goes horribly wrong.
The business of offshoring risk is a hugely lucrative one, and part of the reason for that is that it doesn’t come with any liability to the provider. If I read a bunch of restaurant reviews, which are highly positive, but don’t enjoy the experience myself, my only real recourse is to leave an angry rant in the comments section of those reviews. No one is going to give me my money back, but that’s just a meal; it’s a double-digit transaction and won’t break me financially if it goes wrong.
Yet, we are often prepared to use almost the same methodology when we’re validating decisions of real importance to our organizations. We treat the opinions of others as if we’re buying an indemnity against disaster, but what we’re actually doing is offshoring the risk to someone who has no real stake in its success or failure.
Now, it’s really important to reflect on a couple of things here: I am neither suggesting that using the opinions of external voices is incorrect or that such voices have any interest in being consistently wrong. Just before I sat down to write this piece, I saw a restaurant critic who I really respect trashing a place on social media that I really like eating at. I don’t respect her any less as a result, and I’m certainly not going to change my opinion of that establishment either. Neither of us is right or wrong. We’re just looking for different things from the experience. I am, however, going to be a little wary of her opinions on that sort of place and remember our divergence of views.
What I am suggesting is that when we use external opinions in this way, we are conscious of what we are actually doing. If we opt to offshore risk in our decision-making in this way, we must ensure that we take the steps to both validate its veracity and give it the weight that its lack of indemnity warrants in making important decisions. It’s vital to look outside of your own personal experiences to help guide you when making decisions, but always remember the burden of responsibility for success or failure will always be wholly owned by you.
Matt Mullen has been deep in the weeds of the software industry since the mid-1990s. For the last few years, Matt has been an industry research analyst, focusing on sales and marketing technology, advising large enterprises and software vendors alike on emerging technology, market intelligence and organizational strategy. Follow him on Twitter @MattMullenUK.