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Ropes and the Perception of Risk

Couple days ago I had an amazing experience at Kos Island (Greece) and tried a ropes course, where I had to pass through all the stages of the cool facility, going from one column to another over the ropes and bricks with increasing complexity. It looked like this:


Six phases x three wings x two levels i.e. 36 stages of fun and challenge for my equilibrium. Beyond the unique experience, I learned something very interesting from the instructor (on the pic above, he is at the middle stage, waiting for me).

After I have passed several stages, he said to me: “You know that there are three points of support, required for equilibrium here. One is the left leg, another is right leg, while the third is usually the hand.” Indeed, I have mentioned that to feel stable, I had to hold the rope (or anything else available) with (at least 🙂 one hand. “BUT the interesting part is that you DO NOT HAVE TO HOLD the rope. It is enough just TO TOUCH it. Even slightly with the side of the finger”. Obviously I have tried it and it was amazing! I could relatively freely walk while tip of the finger was touching the rope, and at the same time I could not walk from the moment after it was detached. So for me it was no more the holding rope, but just the reference point.

Immediately as an engineer I thought about the negative feedback that my brain required to do this task, I thought about sensing lines from power electronics, I thought about feedback in control system of my brain, I thought about continuity of nerve that is running from my finger to some place in the brain and realized that this third point, required for the equilibrium was not actually the finger itself, but that place in the brain that required this sensing for better control of my body.

Now I need to distinguish my experience from a single line “Tightrope walking” (funambulism) or slacklining where there are a totally different biomechanics and brain control of the balance.


I am talking about purely psychological effect of the fear of the failure where you can “easily” go at the height of half a meter and make not a single step at fifty meters. I am talking about effect that you slowly go two thirds of the path and then run freely when you see the end.

This was very much related to the work I am doing these days on Risk Modeling in Complex Systems generally and on Perception of Risk particularly. I shall release some interesting parts of the work here… By now, to touch the Perception of Risk model, I would like to mention two major components of the risk – Perception of the probability of failure and Perception of the impact of failure. Each of those components got multiple assessment biases and this is a whole separate talk by itself. In this case of equilibrium reference point, the signal in the brain was impacting the part, responsible for mitigation of the failure probability component of risk perception, since the impact of the failure was same. The mitigation was possible because of the constant signal to my brain that in case of loss of balance, would ensure that the hand is very close to the rope to catch it. If this is true, then the brain mapping (if it is going one day possible not in static lab conditions) of walking person at the same height with and without the finger touched, would show the area of brain that is responsible for the Perception of Probability component of risk, while the different heights would expose the area responsible for the Perception of the Failure Impact.

Interesting that once I passed some stage the second time it was much simpler to detach the finger and in some cases even not use the hand at all and stretch out my arms to increase the moment of inertia for better balance. It was nearly impossible for me to do it for the first time per stage due to the lack of risk assessment and perceptional bias (a.k.a. fear)))).


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Controlled Manufacturing Variability



As you become exposed to manufacturing processes, you can see that the variability is taken as something that is not welcome.

Variability in manufacturing increases risks, causes lack of prediction, enforce application of parametric and financial guardbands, increases complexity and variable costs. Copy-exactly is a strong credo in factories. Unstable processes are nightmare. Bottom line – looks like you would like to have it all stable.

In other hand, in dynamic world the lack of variability is as fatal as chaos. Precise manufacturing is causing stagnation, fragility, low reliability. Such products cause inability to sense market and adapt to the change. Such consumer products are boring and broadcast a strong smell of commodity.


 What if we will not fight with variability? What if we will not just learn to live with it, like by making segmentation of products and adjusted pricing based on nature-God-physics-man-driven Gaussian quality ?  No. What if we will embrace it? What if we will integrate it into our product as basic essential property? What if our incomes would grow with increased manufacturing variability? What if we leverage it and establish a beneficial feedback based on instability?

Example of it can be abandoned stable aerodynamic architecture in modern combat aircrafts, that have relaxed stability and moving towards unstable design. This way they gain new extreme characteristics, such as better maneuvering, air defense resistance or fuel saving.

Another example is smartphone AppStore, which was grown by embracing the variability of applications.


But the growing variability has its price. It could bring inefficiency, losses, chaos, crash and lots of unpleasant things in our life. All this in case we will not care for a proper control. The variability can be a great power, as long as it is managed by system which is complex enough to navigate processes within the scope of our business.

In our example, the relaxed stability of aircraft is managed by fly-by-wire system and without it would cause the immediate fall.

Hundreds of thousands of apps in AppStore would become a chaos or just would not be there without proper management process and tools.


Have you already pushed the limits of your product and see growing instability of various mechanic, electro-mechanic, logistic, managerial, SW, business or other properties? Ask yourself what should you do to love this instability. Imagine this variability of products or processes that you’ve got increased thousand times and ask how do you make this world better (and make money) from it? Build a product and manufacturing which are leveraging variability. Seek antifragility (not a robustness), immunity (not a health), dynamics (not a stability).


Do you have a power variability? Ask yourself how can you make better products by increasing the dynamic range of power. Cross products and within a product. You can see that you have a new product with great properties and bringing a great value for customers.

 Do you have to create same garment and struggling to choose between meeting standards and ever changing designs? Why not to abandon trying to predict the consumer demand, or sensing by long full-value-chain? Try to increase purposely variability of  product. Try to imagine that every person on the earth wants his own design. Can you supply it? Can you integrate a controlled variability in manufacturing to make it? For example create a random (unique!) color scheme. I call it “Exclusification of Manufacturing” and it is meant to mitigate the gap between Art and Commodity. 

 Do you produce yogurts? Make amount of fruits vary considerably more and promote it as a benefit. You might find a growth in demand of surprised consumers.


The concept can be used not only in manufacturing, but in economics, programming, services, education and more – everywhere you meet a variability of process. Embrace variability, control it with your hug and you will find a great friend right next to you.  

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Some thoughts about power as a risk…

In signal processing the power of signal is defined by variance of its frequency. If we take our life as a complex signal of occurrences, then variance of decisions we make is increasing a risk, while granting a power as well.

Only variability of our life is empowering us to make radical changes. Not a height, not a strength, not a mightiness, but embracement of a beautiful variety of our life has a power to change the world. This variety comes from falls and rises, from suffering and joy, from knowledge, from travels, from social connections, from ever changing work/family/friends/me puzzle…

A risk, that is nested in this power, brings saturated incorrect decisions, vulnerability, stress, fragility, blindness, insensitivity, shallowness… not a negligible risk.

So if you see a power without a risk, it is a bubble. A very risky one.


An important update for this post would be a fact that creation of spectrum rather than specific frequency within same power budget might minimize the risk, like a spread financial portfolio. Think, that there is only ONE maximal performance you you might get based on all possible choices for the given risk level. Can we calculate, how to optimize a work/family/… portfolio and get to an efficient frontier of the life and to maximize our income for given risk of divorce? That would solve problems of Work-Life-Effectiveness.