OOPS! How Did That Happen?

It's been a bumpy few weeks for the UK's public broadcaster, the BBC. Following a couple of rather unfortunate PR spats [http://media.guardian.co.uk, free registration required], the Director General has sent out an email to all employees encouraging them to be vigilant and to report any lapses in the high broadcast standards that they set for themselves.

What a double-edged sword the BBC's management faces. On the one hand, the integrity of the corporation must be one of its most precious assets and lapses of trust cannot be tolerated. Yet on the other hand, their people (employees and contractors alike) are facing unprecedented professional competition. Attracting audiences has never been tougher, and it is easy to see how such pressure drives people into situations of experimentation and risk-taking. Tom's axiom SAV (screw around vigorously!) comes to mind.

Whilst I am certainly not in favour of sloppiness or lax standards, I am in favour of innovation and creativity. My main worry in this situation is that anxiety about public criticism will lead talented people within the BBC to play safe. What a pity that would be, as I, for one, would hate to see the BBC marginalised.

But this double-edged sword applies to any organisation that can find the public spotlight trained on their actions. Risk assessment these days often seems to me to end up meaning that organisations play far too safe—for example, the ultra-cautious attitude that many schools in the UK now take towards children's venture expeditions. (Many of them simply don't offer such expeditions any longer.)

So, is it possible to have a risk-taking large organisation, or is that an oxymoron? Who knows of any large organisations that have grappled with this dilemma successfully?