The Patterns

we have discovered for designing the future

308. Don't Ignore 'Orphan Risks'

This apparent pattern – that has emerged from interviews – is now under development, reality-checking and research. If you would like to join the team fleshing out or challenging this pattern – or any other – or help the team discover new ones, please contact us here.

Notes for assembly:

Don’t ignore areas of extremely high risk to the enterprise just because they're hard to think about.  Instead, come up with novel ways to think about them.   The problem today is that “orphan risks” are, at best, treated as high-impact/low-probability scenarios.   When in fact they are *not* low probability.   Just hard.  The definition of an “orphan risk” is “risks that are perceived as being too ill-defined, too complex, or too irrelevant to be worth paying attention to, yet have the power to derail entire enterprises down the line if they’re not paid attention to.”   They come up repeatedly in, e.g., powerful new technologies like artificial intelligence, gene editing, advanced manufacturing and others, that are rewriting the rule book on what is possible. And when combined with an increasingly interconnected global society, they are transforming the risk landscape that lies between new ideas and their successful implementation. This is a landscape that conventional risk thinking — and the tools that go along with it — can only get businesses so far.


It’s time for tech startups and their funders to take “orphan risks” seriously: Technology companies need to stop ignoring hard-to-grapple-with risks that could potentially blindside them in the future

By Andrew Maynard


301.  The First Law of Designing the Future: “You Break It, You Buy It.”