Ignorance isn’t bliss, it’s the hell of being powerless

There is something I need to remind myself of almost every day and it’s not pretty: I’m ignorant. It’s not on purpose, I do what I can about it, and yet I will always have a level of ignorance. Just like everyone does.

Most of us travel through life cultivating a dusty collection of known-unknowns in the corners of our minds. You know the sort. I’m talking about those issues that if you can put full awareness on them, they trigger the mental response of: I don’t know and I don’t want to know.

But to tip the old saying on its head: what you don’t know can hurt you. And if you’re an entrepreneur, then that hurt will extend to your business.

Insurance is one effective way to mitigate the risks of these unknowns. The problems arise when your insurance is itself an unknown!

Many entrepreneurs place their insurance in the too-hard basket which is, honestly, understandable. The average insurance product description can be up to 50 pages and people – especially business owners – are time poor.

Nevertheless, staying ignorant about your insurance has routinely disastrous consequences. I see them every week.

Today, we’re going to delve into ignorance. Specifically,

  • the common sources of ignorance about insurance
  • the risks you take by keeping your head in the sand
  • how you can mitigate powerlessness through knowledge.

Do you know what insurance is? Are you sure?

A true understanding of insurance goes beyond knowing what’s in the contract you’ve signed. Insurance is, at its core, the holistic management of risk. I say ‘management’ here because risk isn’t always something to be avoided.

Properly managed risk can be the fuel that propels your business into future success. Often, this success is of a magnitude you could not have achieved if you had not taken that first ‘risky’ step.

The right insurance enables you to take such risks because it puts a net under the trapeze. If you fall, you have a safe place to land. Knowing this, you can swing out harder and reach higher without your creativity, passion and drive being hindered.

This is the real role of business insurance. Sadly, most people are ignorant of this fact – often, even insurers and brokers get it wrong. Many people see risk as something to be avoided altogether. They focus so hard on what happens after a claim that they fail to manage the risk factors that lead up to it.

Luckily, this kind of ignorance is easily fixed. The crucial first step is to start seeing your insurance as more than just crash protection. Instead, see your insurance as ‘risk management’. Make rational engagement with risk into a tangible element of your business strategy.

And it goes without saying, get yourself an insurance broker who respects the role of risk as a key ingredient in a successful business.

Insurance premiums too good to be true? They probably are.

Insurance companies are not charities. They’re there to provide cover that’s fair, reasonable, and priced accordingly. Higher risk equals higher price – it seems so obvious.

However, I see many cases where a business’s premiums were too low and they only found out what this means when the time came to put in a claim. They suddenly face the fact that low premiums meant there were gaps in their cover. Sometimes these gaps are so big the whole business can fall through.

Conversely, if your premiums are too high it’s also a red flag. Either:

  1. You don’t fully understand the risks associated with your business
  2. Your insurer doesn’t understand your business’s risks, and you’re losing money, which, I think we can all agree, is never a good thing!

It can be all too easy to ignore the numbers when it comes to insurance, particularly if you feel like you’re getting bargain rates. But maintaining this particular ignorance is often catastrophic.

Businesses routinely collapse because something fairly mundane has happened whose risk they had not mitigated and which wasn’t properly covered by their insurance. It’s essential that you learn the risks associated with running your company and ensure your insurance covers them all.

If you’re unsure how much your business ought to be charged for insurance, a good preliminary check is to gather up advice from a handful of providers and brokers. I’ll happily be part of your round up.

Anyway, if their quotes don’t match what you’re currently paying, then you should work to patch the proverbial leak before it becomes a flood.

Examining your ignorance is more rewarding than you might think

Everyone is ignorant of something. None of us knows everything. It’s impossible. There’s a certain power to accepting this truth and working with it.

By examining your own confirmation bias, you’re not only mitigating the risks your company might face, you’re also giving yourself the power to strengthen your business practices. Being well-versed in risk gives you the confidence to make decisions you might otherwise shy away from. And it’s those risky decisions that make for a groundbreaking business.

Not to imply that facing your own ignorance is easy. Becoming suddenly aware of all the risks your business faces can seem like you’ve walked into a den of sleeping wolves with nothing but brittle twigs underfoot.

However, you already know that discomfort is essential for growth. Once you’re able to reframe your response, the power to be gained from your new knowledge will make the growing pains worth it.

Business insurance still the monster under your bed?

Still unsure about your business insurance? That’s fine too. The most successful entrepreneurs achieve so much because they are acutely aware of the limits of their knowledge and understand the value of engaging experts to fill those gaps. They are powerful people because they engage with their ignorance strategically.

Insurance brokers like me make it our business to understand your company – the ins, outs, ups, and downs. At Alleviate Risk we go the extra mile by focusing not only on the outcome of claims, but also the risk factors that lead up to them. Because the best incident is the one you avoid altogether.

“Risk-Reward-Repeat” is our slogan for a reason. We understand insurance for our clients so they reap the rewards of carefully managed risk.

Want to know more? Get in touch today.

When Kids Hit The Deck – A True Story Of Controlling Risks And Preventing Lawsuits

When many parents walk into a child’s play centre, they relish the rare opportunity to let their little ones run wild and free. As an insurance broker and a parent, when I drop into my local centre with the kids in tow, I look around at the organised chaos and my imagination starts racing: Lawsuits! Litigants! Liabilities!

I was approached last year by Stacy and Des MacKellar just after they’d bought the Chipmunks Playland & Cafe franchise at Sippy Downs, Queensland. Their business, which spans a few hundred square-metres of play equipment in a fully contained all-weather building, was an opportunity to really flex my risk-mitigation muscles.

While the MacKellars were already fastidious about health and safety and had all the regular bases covered (literally, with foam and matting), I wanted to help them mitigate the few risks they hadn’t anticipated.

Chipmunks playland
Chipmunks Owner Stacy MacKellar (left) and Manager CiCi MacMillan

Just a few months after they’d officially signed on with me at Alleviate Risk, my advice was put to the test in a big way: an incident occurred involving the child of an allied healthcare professional visiting the centre. She claimed her child had suffered a spinal injury on the slippery slide.

It’s the sort of allegation that can destroy an underprepared business if it’s found to have legal standing in court! But that’s not what happened here.

Read on for how it all played out … and how I can help you benefit through professional risk management.

When It Came to Child Safety, The MacKellars Already Knew A Lot

After a 20-year career as a police officer working largely in child protection, Des MacKellar had witnessed first-hand what can go wrong when kids’ safety isn’t prioritised. He’d dealt with some horrible cases and leant on his family and his passion for preserving human life to cope.

Stacy’s background is in small business. She came from a family that has always owned enterprises. She’d grown up around businesses, worked in finance and insurance, and, from the first phone call, let me know she understood the importance of tackling risk exposure.

So, when their local Chipmunks play centre came up for sale, the couple’s diverse experience meant they were perfect buyers to operate it this demanding sector. Why?

Both policing and the business/finance sector are highly structured, procedure-heavy and sometimes litigious. Further, running the play centre would allow the MacKellars to build on their skills while dialling down on the stress and boredom of their previous occupations.

You’re probably wondering, why did these procedure and safety gurus need my help?

High Premiums Or Risk Management: A No-Brainer

Today, Chipmunks Playland & Cafe Sippy Downs has up to 10,000 visitors per week – as many as 250 kids are running around and playing on the swings, slides and jungle-jims at any one time. With that many kids, each with different levels of social and physical development all concentrated in one place, Stacy and Des knew there would be run-ins.

They weren’t satisfied, however, with simply paying high premiums to insurers who offered them one-size-fits-all policies that only factored worst-case scenarios into their premiums. The MacKellars wanted real risk management, not just renewal notices.

Yes, they had accepted that bumped heads, grazes and even occasional ambulance calls were common in their industry, but they were still determined to find ways to make their centre genuinely safer. This would, in turn, reduce their premiums because they’d mitigated as many risks as possible.

The Best Price By Preparing For The Worst Outcome

I still remember what I said to Stacy and Des when I first inspected their premises.

Someone is going to try to sue you, not because you’re bad operators, but just because of the nature of the business itself.

“Sooner or later, you’re going to be put under the microscope. We have to make sure you get gold medals when that happens.”

Those are not pleasant words for any business owner to hear, but they can be the difference between litigation destroying your business or a successfully defended claim showing your strength in the industry. Stacy and Des knew where I was coming from.

Once I’d completed my report, I told the MacKellars I’d identified three simple things they could do to protect themselves straight away:

1. Cameras: The Antidote To Anecdotal Evidence

The Chipmunks’ staff are not childcare workers: they are there to supervise and maintain the equipment, not manage the children. So, the first thing I instructed the MacKellars to do was get cameras to record every square-metre of floor space.

They did just that, installing cameras in the play centre and linking them to their mobile phones for quick access to all the footage. This would prove to be a particularly smart move, as they’d later be able to provide evidence of exactly if and how injuries were sustained, and, by doing so, disprove any fabricated stories.

2. Documentation: The Best Friend Of The Facts

Incident reports are vital tools for every business. Not only do they help you identify, at a ground-level, areas that pose risks to customers and staff, they are also crucial for businesses that end up having to defend themselves against a personal injury claim.

Here’s what Stacy has to say about her relationship with documentation and reporting:

“Yes, you feel like you’re constantly writing and note-taking. We say to staff: if it happens, put it in the diary. Times, dates, names and details of anything notable or concerning. Taking notes: it is going to protect you! Document, document, document!”

3. Culture: Your Staff Are Your Best Risk-Protection Tool

Although Des and Stacy understood the importance of child safety better than most, their staff (often teenagers with no kids of their own) were an untapped resource for identifying and mitigating risks.

Not content with just training staff on simple procedures like checking equipment, sanitising surfaces and documenting incidents, Stacy and Des wanted to show their insurers and customers that their Chipmunks franchise represented the gold standard in safety.

This meant implementing additional risk-reduction policies that went beyond legislative requirements, including:

  1. Ensuring all staff teams had a senior member over 18 years old present at all times
  2. Having at least one first-aid trained staff member on the floor at all times
  3. Hiring managers who have childcare certifications (even though they aren’t required to do so).

By training staff to employ the best policies and procedures in the industry, the MacKellars were able to mitigate risks far more effectively than their peers. Simply, they’d be able to say to insurers or litigants: “What more could we possibly do?”

The Infamous Slide Incident

playground slide
The slide at Chipmunks Playland Sippy Downs

All of these risk-mitigation strategies came into play one day on the slide. What happened was fairly straightforward:

  1. An incident on the slide occurred involving an unsupervised child around 10 years old.
  2. The child’s mother did not see the incident.
  3. Around 40 minutes later, an off-duty staff member was the first to notice something wrong.
  4. The centre’s management was immediately notified.
  5. The mother then made a complaint, saying her child’s back had been injured.
  6. The mother called an ambulance.
  7. The ambulance arrived and examined the child.

It was at this point that on-duty Chipmunks’ staff were told the child had been complaining of tingling and neurological signs. However, the child was also on medication for several pre-existing developmental and psychiatric conditions – all of which could also have been responsible for the symptoms.

The ambulance paramedic said they couldn’t diagnose on the spot, and felt there wasn’t an injury significant enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. The mother insisted they go anyway. The hospital declined to check in or admit the child, and the mother’s request for a letter from the doctor was refused on the grounds that nothing was wrong with her child. The child was given supermarket-grade painkillers and sent home.

The next day, Chipmunks followed up in order to complete their incident reporting procedures and inform the mother that they had video footage which had been reviewed.

Furthermore, they let her know that it was within their policy to not only call an ambulance when necessary (as she had done) but to section off and inspect the area where the potential injury had occurred before it is used again (which they had done). Neither the footage nor the equipment supported the mother’s version of events leading up to Point 5 above.

Upon hearing this, the mother relented and signed the Chipmunks’ incident report, saying:

‘I hope you have us back, you probably think we made this all up.’

How Did Our Risk Mitigation Help Chipmunks In This Incident?

While the MacKellars’ facility already met Australian safety standards (they also have all equipment, fencing and play areas independently tested by independent consultants DRA Safety), Des and Stacy could have been in big trouble if they hadn’t been so proactive in other ways.

By introducing a constant safety feedback loop between staff, management and insurers, they were able to begin managing the issue instantly, back their safety claims with evidence, and get a written incident report signed by the mother.

All this was then sent to me straight away, and I passed it on to their insurer to let them know a claim might be imminent.

Insurers actually welcome information like this.By flagging incidents, the clients of insurers demonstrate that they understand, mitigate and manage risk instead of passing all the exposures on to be insured. And, the client and the insurer both know they’ll be backed by solid evidence if an incident ever does make it to court.

With this kind of heavy interaction, the insurer is a lot more comfortable knowing their relationship is being managed. In my experience, comfortable insurers are good insurers.

How Do I Mitigate Risks?

Obviously, my answer would be, “Hire me, Morgan Appleby, to be your insurance broker! I’ll help you identify and mitigate risks!”

But, instead of it coming from me, I’ll let Stacy do the talking:

“I chose Morgan independently and I’d absolutely do that 100 times over. We are in regular contact with him. He sends us his newsletter and any other random things he comes across that are relevant to us. We are very grateful that he is in our corner.

“We control those things we know we can control. As for everything else, we have insurance – it protects us as a family and a business with staff and patrons.”

If that sounds like what you want in your insurance, call me. At the very least, I’ll give you a few pointers on common pitfalls in your industry. At best, you’ll be managing risks, keeping more money in your pocket and accessing better insurance.

Every business move or investment has risks, it’s why it also has rewards. Manage things well and you’ll be able to repeatedly enjoy those rewards while being covered for the risks.

As a tertiary-educated risk-mitigation expert (and fellow entrepreneur), I can help you do all this effectively, just email me at morgan.appleby@alleviate.insure.

By Morgan Appleby, MBA, Grad. Dip Bus. Admin, Dip. Fin. Serv. (Broking)

How (Your) Confirmation Bias Puts Your Business At Risk

Don’t listen to what the economists say. We humans are not rational creatures. Our mental blindspots are huge and we’re prey to literally hundreds of cognitive biases.

These affect any decisions made by anyone – from our most level-headed leaders right through to the tinfoil-hat-wearing illiterati.

One of the most insidious of these maladaptive influences is confirmation bias.

‘But I don’t have confirmation bias! I’m as balanced as they come!’ I hear you say.  

To which I reply, ‘Your belief in your lack of confirmation bias merely confirms your bias towards believing in your own imperviousness to bias’.

While pointing out confirmation biases rarely wins me friends, it’s a worthwhile exercise when you’re an insurance professional, because confirmation bias poses a serious threat to businesses.

Are you aware of how your mental tendency to agree with yourself impairs your company? Let’s look at the whole issue a bit closer.

What is Confirmation Bias?

Simply put, confirmation bias is the tendency to look for and overvalue information that supports your existing beliefs (which, by the way, may or may not be rational), while simultaneously downplaying information that contradicts those beliefs.

As humans, we really like being right. In fact, according to decision science expert Paul Windschitl, we’re 36% more concerned with being right than we are worried about being wrong.

What’s so wrong with wanting to be right?

3 Ways Confirmation Bias Affects Your Business

The reality is that you, me and anyone else is wrong about a lot of things a lot of the time. And ill-informed decision making rarely garners ideal results.

Here are three ways confirmation bias might be affecting the business decisions you make:

1. Assuming Your Opinions are Factual

The less you know about any given subject, the more likely you are to have a stronger unconscious bias towards believing you’re right about it. And the stronger your biases, the more likely you are to make an ill-informed decision.

Smart people are unusually susceptible to this. How? Let’s take the example of a talented doctor working in a hospital. She’s an expert in her own field and has become very good at backing herself. Medicine is the only career path she’s tried and she’s been highly successful. She’s worked hard and everything has gone right so far.

Therefore, she has a subconscious bias that she’ll enjoy the same success when she decides to leave the hospital and launch herself as an independent general practitioner. However, she hasn’t put anywhere near the same time, effort and money into running businesses as she put into becoming a great doctor.

She opens her GP office and things don’t go well. Yes, she’s working hard and giving quality care. She thinks she’s doing everything right, but her business just can’t catch a break for some reason.

She doesn’t know she has the confirmation bias blinkers on. Instead of perceiving the actual factors governing her business success, she works harder and harder and longer and longer hours. The business still haemorrhages money. Eventually it collapses.

To the end she still believed she was doing everything right and, simply, not working hard enough.

2. The Boss Is Always Right (Except When They’re Wrong)

Many business owners I know love the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ because a big part of their role is ruthlessly prioritising what is broke. However, just because you think you can accurately prioritise issues within your company, doesn’t mean you’re actually doing it.

It can be really hard to take heed when people who have no vested interest in whether you succeed or fail point out some flaw in your operations.

Frontline staff are also often the first to detect a problem within a company, yet just as often they don’t want to risk telling the boss something he or she won’t want to hear. Instead of raising an issue they:

  1. Let small problems silently grow into big ones
  2. Create their own inefficient solutions to the problems
  3. Skew the information they provide to management in order to make things look rosier than they really are.

By the time the problem becomes obvious to the boss, it can be too late. Everyone in senior management is blindsided and left wondering, ‘How did this go so wrong so fast!’

It went wrong when management believed its own assumption that problems it wasn’t seeing didn’t exist.

3. Past Performance Is Not An Indicator Of Future Performance

You’ve probably heard this at the end of every superannuation commercial, but have you ever stopped to consider the implications it has for your business?

One of the greatest confirmation biases that business owners face is assuming that because their business has done well in the past it is prepared to do well in the future.

Professor Raymond Nickerson, the world’s leading confirmation bias researcher, explains our tendency to preference conclusions we make early on in our business journey:

“When a person must draw a conclusion on the basis of information acquired and integrated over time, the information acquired early in the process is likely to carry more weight than that acquired later.”

Thus, we over-value the way we did things when business was going well. Just because your business experienced growth last year, it doesn’t mean you were the main factor in that growth or that the growth will naturally continue this year.

How Confirmation Bias Works And Why We All Have It

Don’t think that confirmation bias is just ego taking over. Although overconfidence plays a large role in many poor business decisions, the root cause of confirmation bias harkens back to the fight or flight response our primitive ancestors needed to stay alive.

Early humans used cognitive-processing shortcuts like fight or flight to quickly and efficiently respond to life or death circumstances.

With the stakes so high, it was always better to err on the side of caution: privileging harmful past experiences over careful evaluation of the information at hand. After all, it is better to mistake a thousand trees for a tiger and run away than to mistake one tiger for a tree and stand still!

Today the threat of being eaten alive has all but disappeared, yet the cognitive survival mechanisms that resulted from about a million years of facing such risks are still hard-wired into us. They still govern much of our day-to-day decision making.

How You Can Protect Your Business From Your Biases

The good news is there are steps to take to mitigate the negative effects of your cognitive biases for your business. Here are four:

1. Acknowledge Your Biases

Confirmation bias is particularly problematic when you either:

  1. Genuinely don’t know it is influencing you
  2. Believe you can’t be influenced in the first place.

As they say in AA, ‘acknowledging you have a problem is the first step’. Only when you’re aware of the role confirmation bias plays in your life can you begin to work within its effects.

No, you’ll never be able to completely quash your biases. But, if you can be a little more aware of yours than your competitors are of theirs, you’ll be 10 streets ahead.

Ironically, you have to admit how vulnerable you are in order to reduce your vulnerability.

2. Collaborate With Independent Third Parties

As an insurance broker, I have the privilege of seeing how many different businesses in many different industries operate.

It’s my job to learn the ins-and-outs of these businesses so that I can offer accurate risk advice to owners who, while exceptional at what they do, can often no longer see the forest for the trees. Often, I have uncomfortable things to say.

The business owners who continue to thrive after I’ve come on board tend to be those who fully embrace a collaborative approach.

To put it plainly, it is easier to see someone else’s biases than it is to see your own. By allowing fresh eyes to take a look at your business, you’ll recognise the blindspots that your own cognitive biases have caused.

3. Encourage Dissent

Yep, you should actively seek out opinions, attitudes and beliefs that are uncomfortable. It’s very healthy for your staff to feel comfortable speaking out. Dissent in the ranks is exactly what leaders need when a tiger is picking off troops in the rear.

Don’t let a belief in your own superior business acumen or a fear of being undermined cloud your judgement. Great leaders are receptive to criticism and questioning. They encourage critical analysis. This is how they ensure that their company’s culture is free from the toxic, compounding effects of confirmation bias.

Many multinational companies have suffered because their leaders raised an army of ‘yes men’. Lee Iacocca at Chrysler is a legendary example. Learn from their mistakes!

4. Question Your Immediate Reactions

The human brain is naturally lazy. Combatting this laziness with intentional critical thinking is one of the most effective ways to fend off the negative effects of confirmation biases.

The next time you’re in the middle of a conversation and someone makes a statement you don’t agree with, have the insight to stop and ask yourself why you don’t agree.

Is it simply because you have an alternative opinion, or are you privy to factual information the other party isn’t?

Do you have a preconceived bias on that particular subject?

If so, where does that bias stem from?

Train your brain to ask these questions and you will become more self-aware and less susceptible to unconscious bias (just don’t start thinking you’re completely infallible!).

The Bottom Line

There is a Mark Twain quote I come back to almost every day:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

Because of the way human brains have developed, we all have confirmation bias. How you deal with your personal biases has a huge effect on your business.

Ignore them or refuse to acknowledge their existence and you’ll be exposed to risks that could destroy you.

Accept that your decision making is influenced by invisible biases then learn how to counter them, and you’ll be able to take risks your competitors think are too ‘risky’. You’ll be able to repeat successes they couldn’t pull off even once. And you’ll reap rewards while they languish in ill-informed decisions.

In my field, the simplest proof that defying your confirmation bias works happens when I advise a client to get cover against a certain kind of incident.

I can see how their growth is continually ramping up its probability, but their confirmation bias means they can’t see this. You’d be amazed how often the incident happens within 18 months.

The choice to confront your cognitive shortcomings is yours. If you’re ready to have your eyes opened to more of the bigger picture, drop me a line at morgan.appleby@alleviate.insure or call 1300 253 848.

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