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Are You Worrying About the Right Things?

Some people worry about shark attacks. They see the stories on the media, and get concerned that they will be a victim. But let’s look at the numbers. In the decade of the 2000’s, there were 11 unprovoked shark attacks in the US.[1]

I can’t imagine the horrific feeling one must experience when a shark attack happens, but the chance of it occurring is remote. How remote? Well, let’s compare it to the act of driving to the beach.

The 22 beaches of Santa Monica Bay, for example, have about 50,000,000 visitors per year, amounting to an average of about 6,000 people per beach, per day. Assuming that the average trip is 20 miles round trip, that’s about a billion miles spent driving to and from the beaches in this one area. (Note that the 20 miles is entirely made up, but seems reasonable as some visitors will be locals and some will be tourists. Besides, it makes for a nice, clean number.)

A typical measure of highway safety is fatalities per hundred million miles driven. It has been dropping over the years, but was somewhere around 1.5-1.7 during this time frame. Let’s use 1.5 for this exercise. With a billion miles driven to and from the beach, that is about 15 people per year and 150 people total. And remember, that’s just to Santa Monica Bay. Multiply that out by all the beaches in the US, and the number would likely be in the tens of thousands.

That means that you are at least a thousand times more likely to be killed driving to the beach as you are to be killed by a shark once you get there. And yet, some people will climb into the car, braving the gauntlet of death on the road, and then sit on the beach without entering the water because they are worried about the sharks. And this comparison only looks at one of the ways you could die. You could get sun stroke on the beach. You could be a victim of crime. You could choke on your sandwich. You could fall. You could drown. I suspect all of those present a risk that is at least an order of magnitude higher than a shark attack. Even the risk of being killed by a falling coconut (about 150 worldwide per year) is much higher than that of even being attacked by a shark, much less killed by one. But shark attacks still rank higher on the fear factor.

So what’s my Lean point? The takeaway is to be sure that you are worrying about the right things in your business. Far too often we act on emotion rather than facts. We get scared of a particular occurrence and focus on it. We get bitten (so to speak) by a quality problem, and think it is bigger than it is.

Why do we do this? Simply put, we act without understanding. We don’t gather up the facts and data to make an informed decision. We don’t do a thorough risk assessment such as a FMEA, and act on gut feel. Sometimes we get it right. Occasionally, we are way off. But most of the time, we probably are somewhere in between. The problem, though, is that we have limited resources and are operating with intense competition. Being just a little bit off can add up to being a lot behind the competition.

So, the next time you get worried about a problem that might happen and start to spend resources to address it, check to see if it is really the right problem. In short, don’t worry about going into the water. Just stay away from those palm trees.

[1] It is concerning to me that the statistics have to mention that there are enough ‘provoked’ shark attacks that they deserve a separate statistical category, but that is a topic for a different article.


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