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Low Risk Doesn’t Mean It Won’t Kill You

What are the odds a tree would fall on your truck?Got an interesting link from my friend Don, who prefers to stay behind the scenes, pointing out an interesting perspective on Jared Diamond, an older guy evaluating the risks of his daily activities.

Consider: If you’re a New Guinean living in the forest, and if you adopt the bad habit of sleeping under dead trees whose odds of falling on you that particular night are only 1 in 1,000, you’ll be dead within a few years. In fact, my wife was nearly killed by a falling tree last year, and I’ve survived numerous nearly fatal situations in New Guinea.

Most folks won’t bat an eyelash about a 1 in 1,000 event. But Jared hopes to have 15 years of life left, so if he averages one shower per day that’s 5,475 showers. If he were to fall once every thousand showers, he would still take 5 or more spills. Obviously falling in a confined area is problematic for the elderly. So the small risk is quite real.

But the real point isn’t to forget about personal hygiene – it’s to be constructively paranoid. Build on-the-fly threat models, and mitigate those risks. Regardless of what you are doing.

My hypervigilance doesn’t paralyze me or limit my life: I don’t skip my daily shower, I keep driving, and I keep going back to New Guinea. I enjoy all those dangerous things. But I try to think constantly like a New Guinean, and to keep the risks of accidents far below 1 in 1,000 each time.

Can you see the applicability to security?

Photo credit: US 12 - White Pass - Watch for falling trees #2, originally uploaded by WSDOT

—Mike Rothman

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