Wait a Second – You Mean We Can Have Positive Risks Too?

I know, seems counter-intuitive, right?

When we hear the word “risk,” we automatically think it has to be negative.

In many cases, it is. Perhaps a certain process is outdated and causing the company to lose money, or a defective product is leading to some bad press.

However, some risks can be considered “positive,” at least on the surface. The reason they’re still called risk is that, while you have a positive outcome in a certain situation, you may be creating other risks that will require attention. AND…the positive outcome is not a guarantee because you are taking a chance (or risk) to achieve the positive while there is the possibility of a negative outcome.

Another way to think about is – it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Positive risks “…are deemed as undesirable despite being positive at face value” according to John Spacey.

You may be really confused by now, but stick with me…

Let’s say you have a long-term project comes in under budget, which is great! Of course, this saves the company money, but now  a potential flaw in the planning and budgeting process at the company has been exposed.

Another example of a positive risk is for a product rollout to go better than expected. Let’s say you estimate your first month sales will be around 1,500 units, but the goal is reached by day 10 and the month ends with 5,000 units sold. On one hand, the increased sales are great news, but it can also expose the company to other risks, such as:

  • Your manufacturer cannot keep up with the demand, resulting in back orders and customer frustration.
  • You drain resources from other products or services.
  • You increase the cost of doing business, thus reducing or eliminating profitability.
  • Your website has so many visitors that it crashes the server.

As shown in these examples, you typically want to avoid situations arising out of positive risks. However, these risks can be managed in a way that turns them into opportunities should they occur (i.e. minimize the negative while maximizing the positive).

Using the product rollout example above, you may be able to offset the negative risks by taking these actions:

  • Work with your supplier to hire more workers to increase manufacturing capacity.
  • Include incentive language in the contract with the manufacturer for them to meet sales demands.
  • Hire temporary workers to handle the unexpected demand for the new product. Don’t sacrifice other products or services for this new product.
  • After reaching the goal so quickly, evaluate the product pricing. Is the price too low?

Another example of a positive risk is a product that has a much longer lifespan than expected. This can be turned into an opportunity for additional revenue if the product can command a higher price.

These are just a few examples of what ERM practitioners call positive risks and ways you can turn them into opportunities.

Have you encountered situations that were initially positive but created other problems in your organization? Feel free to share in the comments below or join the conversation on LinkedIn!

Featured image courtesy of Freedooom via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Hans Læssøe
    March 27, 2019 3:33 am

    Yes – by the ISO 31000 standard, there is such a thing as a positive risk. There are supposedly some 540,000 words in the English vocabulary making it the largest vocabulary in the world. Having english as a 2nd language it puzzles me, that there is no better word that “positive risk”.

    Someone has to come up with and add word number 540,001.

    • Thanks for commenting, Hans! I agree – there should definitely be another option than “positive risk.” Based on conversations I have had with people, risk is always considered bad. (Of course, you must take risks in order to live and for business to survive and thrive.) But to have something good create a risk? A completely new concept to most people, hence this article.

      Any thoughts on a new word to use?

  • I do not know how and why someone came up with this term. It does not make sense! Ironically, seems like a very articulately dumb term to use. (see what I did there?).
    In essence, it does not add up, can we say risky opportunity? or negative opportunity? what is the difference? they are very far apart.

    Risky opportunity is by default applicable to all opportunities, but with a varying types and levels of risk. The other is the opposite and uses a similar approach of that positive risk, and it does not make sense; if it is negative then it should not be called an opportunity in the first place.

    If I had to choose, it may as well be “Dare”, or a similar word along those lines. Although not completely accurate, it is not an exact opposite or a hard concept like positive and risk.

    I was thinking about it, in some areas, you may refer to softer descriptions of things like taste, for example, you can say bitter sweet to describe tastes that can happen in the same time or in sequence. However, you do not say nauseatingly delicious, unless you enjoy both of them, which signals a separate dangerous issue and a possible medical or mental condition.

    By the way, it is incorrect that English has the largest vocabulary in the world, but has the potential to reach there in a few years or decades – if the English speakers do not run themselves into the ground as a civilization. let us hope so, otherwise it will be extremely hard to learn Chinese or any other language. I think there is no harm of getting a proper term from another language rather than confusing people with misnomers.


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