Faulty Risk-Taking: The Genesis of Unintended Consequences

Linda Henman

Faulty Risk-Taking: The Genesis of Unintended Consequences

In December of 2014, Discovery Channel aired a special called “Eaten Alive.” The program featured Paul Rosolie, a “naturalist” who planned to don a snake-proof suit and live through getting swallowed by a 20-foot-long anaconda. Apparently, the goal was to provide Rosolie the insider (pun intended) perspective of a snake’s digestive processes.

Anacondas this size can easily eat a large mammal, like a deer, so swallowing a human shouldn’t have been a problem. But it was. Even though programmers at Discovery designed a suit that would protect him against the snake’s fangs, compression, and stomach acid, they couldn’t make Rosolie look appetizing to the giant frightened snake who didn’t want to eat something that looked more like the Tinman than his supper.

To overcome the first round of bad decisions that didn’t anticipate consequences, Rosolie decided to provoke the snake into eating him. That had the intended consequence of making the snake attack, but Rosolie didn’t anticipate how much he’d hate being constricted by an anaconda, so he called in the crew to rescue him.

The story doesn’t end there, however. The December 15th edition of People reported the Discovery Channel had filmed adventurer Rosolie being eaten alive by the snake on December 7th.  The magazine went to press too soon, as we now know. When the folks at People decided to report a story that hadn’t happened, apparently no one anticipated the embarrassment of a wrong headline.

Start to finish this story is chock-full of bad risk-taking. What can leaders learn from the mistakes of the snake-bait and the folks at the Discovery Channel?

  • Ask “What guaranteed good will come of this?”
  • Embrace optimism but never at the expense of pragmatism.
  • Explore worst-case scenarios.
  • Base risk-taking on facts, not guesswork and probabilities.
  • Gamble when the rewards outweighs the risks, not when you want the excitement of the unknown.

What if Rosolie hadn’t choked? The only way for him to have gotten out of the snake’s stomach would have been for the crew to kill the snake and cut him out. Though Rosolie and Discovery touted this stunt as a way to raise awareness about the Amazon and its biodiversity, we can all agree that didn’t happen. But a snake pit full of unintended consequences sure did.