Why Did William Shatner Venture Into Space? Risk Management May Have the Answer

By: | November 15, 2021

John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University, a core faculty member at the International School of Management (Paris), and a Risk Insider at Risk and Insurance magazine where he was named a 2018 All Star. He was Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), dean of the schools of business at Seton Hall and Connecticut State universities, and provost of the College of Insurance and SUNY Maritime College in New York City.

Until recently, the major success linked to William Shatner was his portrayal of Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Nobody really cared that the captain of the USS Enterprise was also an author, producer, director, and screenwriter.

Now this may change as a result of Shatner becoming the oldest man ever to go into space. The 10-minute jaunt may be the singular accomplishment of his career.

Why did he do it?

If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. My only tool may be enterprise risk management (ERM). I want to hammer out an understanding of his decision.

ERM examines problem solving and decision making from a perspective that risk and opportunity are the opposite sides of the same coin. Failing to pursue a risk can also be the failure to achieve an opportunity. ERM is an active process every day in our lives, whether for personal, behavioral, or economic decisions.

ERM might help us understand Shatner’s decision.

The risk component is pretty easy to see. Rockets blow up. An aging passenger may not have the physical stamina to survive the forced pressure of lifting off from the earth. Things can go wrong in the weightless condition of space. The rocket might burn up during re-entry.

It’s the opportunity portion of the decision that is intriguing. Being a passenger on a brief ride into space does not make one an astronaut. Again we ask, “Why did he do it?”

We can see if ERM provides an answer.

ERM encourages us to follow a tried, tested, and true approach to making important decisions:

  • What am I (are we) doing now?
  • What will I (we) be doing in the future if nothing changes?
  • What should I (we) be doing instead?

What were Shatner’s answers to these questions?

  • What is he doing now? What can you do at age 90?
  • What will he be doing in the future? Same answer.
  • What should he be doing in the future? Should it be to take a ride on a rocket?

Everybody finds themselves in similar situations at multiple times during a lifetime. What are the risks and opportunities of what I’m doing now? By extension, what will I be doing in the future if nothing changes? What is the right thing to do?

Let’s hope people remember the courage or foolishness of Mr. Shatner when they, or their organizations, examine changing a behavior, revising a course of action, taking a risk, or seizing an opportunity.

So, here’s the answer after a careful ERM examination. My hammer did not work. I have no idea how he traded off risk and benefit.

We can see he took a chance involving risk and opportunity. We can only hope we make the right decision when change is needed. An ERM process can help.

Enough for now. I must go to a dinner party where it is likely that the conversation will turn to Mr. Shatner. Let me guess what will happen.

  • Some people will claim he was an idiot.
  • Some people will suggest he was brave.
  • Some people will curse Jeff Bezos for all the money he wastes on traveling to space.
  • Some people will be bored with the conversation.

For my part, I just want to thank Mr. Bezos and Mr. Shatner for giving us a chance to discuss enterprise risk management. &

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