A Risk Assessor Origin Story Courtesy of Stephen King’s IT
*** Warning: This blog contains spoilers for the horror movie IT (2017) and IT Chapter Two (2019). ***
Movies are chockfull of superhero origin stories, but what about us regular risk management folks?
Well, we finally have one thanks to horror movies IT and IT Chapter Two, released in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Based on the books by Stephen King, the movie tells the story of Pennywise, a shapeshifting ancient evil manifesting as a creepy circus clown, that awakens every 27 years to eat children in Derry, Maine. Pennywise lives in the sewers below the town.
In honor of Halloween, let’s take a look at these two films to uncover how a risk assessor is made.
An Obsession with Risk
In the first movie, a ragtag bunch of children fight back and fend off Pennywise, making a blood oath to come back and fight Pennywise again should he ever return. In the sequel, Pennywise comes back 27 years later and is ultimately defeated by the now grown up group.
One of those people is Eddie Kaspbrak, who in the movie grew up to be a risk assessor.
Eddie’s career choice makes a lot of sense when you consider his background. He grew up the only child of the ultimate helicopter mom. His father died when he was young, and his mother was desperately afraid that something would happen to Eddie. She was extremely strict and constantly warned him about germs, making him a risk-averse hypochondriac.
Eddie saw the risk in every situation and was always the one to make a case for why the group shouldn’t proceed with a dangerous plan. When one of his friends broke from the pack to use the bathroom in an abandoned house, he recites the fact that 89 percent of the worst accidents at home are caused in bathrooms—not the type of fact every child knows. He warns of staph infections when his friends want to enter an old sewer pipe. He is constantly puffing on his asthma inhaler.
For Eddie, life is full of danger and avoidance is the best strategy.
When he faces Pennywise, the clown takes the form of Eddie’s greatest fear: a germy, decomposing leper.
An Education in Risk vs. Reward
Eddie grows in confidence after fighting Pennywise and after discovering the pills that his mother made him regularly take and carry were only placebos. He stands up to her and her controlling ways and goes off to help rescue his friends.
As a result of this action, Eddie’s friends are rescued and Pennywise is sent back into hibernation with hopes that he’ll starve since he couldn’t eat as many children as planned.
Eddie is finally able to see that not all risks are equal. The risks associated with touching a dirty handrail pale in comparison to the threat of being stalked by a murderous supernatural clown. Sometimes it is necessary to take a risk to mitigate an even bigger risk.
All Grown Up and Evaluating Risk
The sequel opens with a re-introduction to the film’s main characters, including Eddie, who is now a successful risk assessor living in New York City. He’s married to an overbearing woman like his mother. As we meet Eddie, he is driving in his car while talking to his wife on the phone. She rattles off a long list of things that could go wrong and reminds him to wear his seatbelt.
Eddie, risk ever on his mind, informs his wife that talking on the phone while driving actually increases the likelihood of being in an accident. The audience quickly realizes that Eddie has a job that perfectly aligns with his personality and skillset.
Rather than simply fleeing risk, the grownup Eddie applies his job skills to evaluate the dangers and opportunities. When the crew first reunites in Derry, they are presented two options:
- Fight Pennywise
- Live their whole lives in fear of Pennywise
It’s a choice everyone must grapple with throughout the movie, with many tempted to leave town and not get involved.
Eddie chooses to fight back. Pennywise appears to each group member in the form of their greatest fear, and each one of them escapes. But when Pennywise returns as a horrifying leper, Eddie doesn’t run away like in the first movie. He puts his hands on the leper and fights him even though it’s terrifying. The risk of facing his fears is worth the potential benefit of saving the town’s residents from Pennywise.
Later on, Pennywise takes the form of a horrible clawed spider/clown hybrid. The evil spirit attacks his trapped friends. Eddie makes a calculated decision to get close and attack Pennywise to save his friends. A risk calculation goes through his head: Everyone, including him, will die or he can put only himself at risk and potentially save his friends.
While Eddie maims Pennywise, the victory is short-lived as Pennywise reanimates and fatally injures Eddie. Before he dies, Eddie helps his friends realize that fear gives Pennywise his power and strength—knowledge that leads to the clown’s eventual defeat.
Lessons in Risk Management
Unlike most risk managers, Eddie came to his career in risk after a series of traumatic experiences. Yet he possesses many of the best characteristics of a risk manager:
- Able to identify risk. Eddie recognizes a threat or opportunity when he sees one.
- Knows how to measure risk. Eddie doesn’t base his assessments on gut reactions. He’s got quantifiable facts and measurements to back them up.
- Eddie makes a practical case for his risk mitigation suggestions. He does his best to get through to those who don’t make risk a priority.
- Works well in a team. Eddie knows that mitigating risk isn’t a one-person job. He works with his friends to come up with a plan to eliminate the threat.
What do you think drew you to a career in risk management? Does it impact your day-to-day life in anyway?