Fast risks and slow risks

Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist and all around wonderful person, had a great post about fast risks and slow risks.

“People worry about many risks, but generally about the wrong ones. We tend to be obsessed with personal and societal risk that is “fast.” What will the Fed Reserve announce next? Should I trust Tesla’s auto steering? These are risks where outcomes are realized quickly. That’s why I call them fast risks. As it turns out though some of the biggest risks today are slow. Outcomes will not be realized for decades or longer. The impact of nutrition and exercise on health is an example of a slow risk. The mother of all slow risks is climate change.” 

I hadn’t thought of risks this way and now see this fast risk-slow risk dichotomy everywhere. It is fascinating to think of fast and slow risks from the perspective of our careers. Fast risks are the next big presentation, evaluation, interview or promotion cycle. But, a slow risk on the other hand is any deceleration of our rate of learning.

Albert goes on to observe – “I continue to be amazed by how much fear and anxiety people are experiencing daily based on fast risk. Will I get a good grade on my exam? Will this investment succeed or fail? These risks completely pale compared to the climate change risk of global upheaval of life as we know it, with the potential for tens of millions of human deaths.”

Powerful observation. It begs the question – how can we do a better job putting fast risks in perspective and ensure we’re working toward a better response to that “mother of all slow risks” – climate change?