What's The Risk of Doing Nothing? — A Question To Overcome a Paradox

Read time —
3 Minutes
Last updated
April 27, 2024

What is the risk of doing nothing?

It was a question Mountain Rescue maybe didn’t ask. We were shivering, sat on a wet mountainside in North Wales awaiting rescue because we had lost our way.

Doing nothing made us easier to find. But it also brought life to the chill of that late October afternoon we felt as we sat and waited. In the end, the threat of hypothermia got us moving. We found the footpath we had strayed from and met the rescue team on the path down the hill.

I’m not criticising Mountain Rescue. They had decided to come and find us. It would be easier if we weren’t moving about in the dark without torches.

But for us, the risk of doing nothing brought other problems.

That’s the challenge of decision-making. Situations are fluid. Conditions change and bring unconsidered issues to the fore.

Stepping back reveals this to be entropy at work.

And when chaos arrives on the scene, recovering any form of control can feel almost impossible. Then, our choices change. Different information creates a need to focus on a different outcome.

That’s why you need to ask, what is the risk of doing nothing?

This article covers:

The Real Risk is Doing Nothing

We see decisions like binary language. 1 for yes and 0 for no.

There is a pattern of thought that says consequences only follow a yes. Biases — like confirmation bias do a great job of helping us put the blinkers on. A positive decision leads to outcomes, rewards, and opportunity.

We take comfort from what we know. And turn a blind eye to what we don’t know. We don’t even consider what this might be.

There is no hunt for the clues. A limited challenge of assumptions might arise. But, in truth, there is no real inspection about whether our information is incomplete. There is no validation.

Confirmation bias has firmly shut that door.

And so breathe a sigh of relief. Doing nothing is easy.

But, like the hands of time, everything changes. Entropy says hell yes.

You see there is real risk of doing nothing. Of letting indecision fester in the hope the future might have become clearer. The false belief that the dawn of the next day will cast a light on the path you need to take.

Nope. That will not happen.

Entropy ensures everything changes. The second law of thermodynamics ensures disorder, uncertainty and randomness will feature. It may well appear after you’ve said yes. But at least you had a chance to influence the outcome. When you do nothing, you lose influence.

You lose control.

Ask: What is the Risk of Doing Nothing

That’s the great thing about life.

You have a chance to decide. You get to look at information, actions, and outcomes and think about each aspect of them. Questions give you a window to ponder each part of the decision.

One aspect is the second-order effects. If I do this, what will it mean?

When you ask what is the risk of doing nothing you open yourself up to a side of second-order consequences we don’t think about.

Thinking about what might happen if you do nothing brings just as much information as thinking about doing something.

That’s what happened to us on that mountainside.

We argued about whether to move or not. Doing nothing, that is waiting for the rescue team to find us was already providing information to us. At that moment, with an eta unknown from the rescuers, doing nothing seemed like an invitation to get colder. We couldn’t get warmer by standing still.

But maybe we could narrow the gap by moving. We would certainly begin to warm up.

I suppose that’s my argument about why you need to ask this question.

For a decision to truly be a good one, it has to consider the paradoxes. It has to look at what might happen and might not happen objectively. All too often we make decisions based on one side of the coin. We don’t turn the coin over and look at the other side.

Decisions centre around outcomes. If we do this, then this happens. But a good decision has to assess the risks that go with any possible outcome — wanted or unwanted.

And that’s the power of asking what is the risk of doing nothing.

It opens your mind to the thoughts you haven’t had.

Written by

Darren Matthews
I'm the founder of The Resolve Blog. Through its articles, newsletter, and tools, The Resolve Blog helps you master your decision-making.

Become a Wiser Decision-Maker in Just 5 Minutes per Week.

Join 700+ others and get stories, frameworks, and tactics that will
make you a better decision-maker.
© 2024
All rights reserved.