Where is Your Outrage?


I know I’m late to the party, but I just finished reading Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, a provocative and fun to read economic analysis of many social phenomena that turned many of my assumptions on their heads. I like that. But it also sheds new light on something that I encounter often in coaching – fear of change.

In their chapter on parenting, Levitt and Dubner discuss risk and demonstrate how wrong our calculations of risk frequently are. For example, many more children die from drowning in a swimming pool than by gunshot even though there relatively fewer pools than guns. Yet many parents happily send their children to play at a home with a swimming pool but may balk if they know there is a gun in the house. Or compare the perceived risk of mad cow disease to that of food-borne pathogens in the average kitchen. Or driving vs. flying. In each case we tend to be more fearful of lower actual risk.* Turns out we routinely miscalculate risk, according to “risk communications consultant” Peter Sandman. He developed the following formula to explain our risk assessment. Risk = hazard + outrage. Things that are outrageous, unfamiliar, out of our control, or potentially imminent, scare us a lot more, even if the actual possibility of them happening is low. Therefore, we perceive a higher risk and often over-react and try to protect ourselves from the wrong thing.

Here’s how this phenomenon presents itself in coaching. Clients come to me because something is not working for them, and they want to change but don’t know how. They are stuck, often in fear of the very change they desire. They perceive great risk in change. But what about the risk of inaction? Although taking action toward change carries a possibility of failure, inaction brings a certainty of dissatisfaction, of not living up to one’s potential, of tolerating what is, indefinitely ….. Where is our outrage about that? We only get one life. What risks have you been over-reacting – or under-reacting – to? What possibilities are you scared of while you tolerate the certainty of wasted time? Let’s tap into our outrage and get into action.

*In the case of driving vs. flying, you are much less likely to die in a plane than in a car. However, Levitt and Dubner point out that if you look at deaths per hour, the risk of flying and driving is equal – we just spend many many more hours driving.