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Part III | Perception: it’s a paint-by-numbers vs. Reality: you paint it like pollock


It’s a paint-by-numbers


You paint it like Pollock

Before we do anything in our risk management planning, we need to make sure we understand the environments we work in. Everything we do should accommodate the attributes and characteristics of our environments.

Linear vs. non-linear

Linear thinking is like a paint-by-numbers project: It’s all laid out for us. From form to color to finished product, we know what the outcome will be before we even start. A linear environment is familiar, stable, structured, and predictable. It’s rigid, but it means predictions can be made with reasonable accuracy.

A lot of people think risk management is like a paint-by-numbers project: You create a plan, and stick to it.

But it’s really more like a Jackson Pollock painting: decidedly non-linear.

Non-linear thinking, in risk management terms, equates to situations with time constraints, high stakes, inadequate information, and rapidly changing situations with unclear starting and ending points. Patterns will be difficult to see and interpret. We will very likely find ourselves looking not for the best solution, but for the most workable one. Cause and effect aren’t cut-and-dried, and the shear volume of information can be overwhelming.

Advice is least valuable where it is easiest to apply

When in an unfamiliar environment—facing crisis situations—should we have high expectations for the risk management process?

Risk management strategy works effectively in well-ordered industries and situations that have enough experience to reliably identify the risks in advance and define procedures. Internal experience is worth its weight in gold, and mature industries have already encountered the most likely risks and have proven procedures to deal with them.

The trick is to be able to understand what worked in the past, what did not work, and why. Then you translate that to incidents that don’t conform to internal experience. That’s how we turn a paint-by-numbers project into a Jackson Pollock painting.

What to Remember

Incident management is an excellent place to find great information. A large number of small incidents may foreshadow more, significant accidents. But while this bottom-up approach to risk and reliability analysis can be successful for some systems, it doesn’t account for human or socio-technical failure. As a hedge against those incidences, we recommend:

  • Well Defined vs. Complex Domains: Use appropriate concepts and techniques for the domain. In well-defined (familiar) domains procedures, order processes, and centralized decision making works well. In complex domains frameworks, tacit knowledge, and situation awareness and leadership work well.
  • Economize: Estimate the probability and the impact of each risk, and then calculate which risks pose the greatest threat. Understand the underlying threat actor such as repetitional sensitive, compounding capabilities, detection, and behavioral effects.
  • Research and read up – Become proficient in nonlinear and complex thinking. Start with reading and researching on Complex, Nonlinear, and Chaos Theories.
  • Stay vigilant: Once a plan is developed, managers tend to relax because, hey, safeguards are now in place—the risk-mitigation plans ensure safety. Never stop making plans! But also understand that all the planning in the world will not guarantee success.
  • Keep communicating: Ensure the risk-management planning and processes are designed to encourage and solicit feedback.
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5 fresh perspectives: seeing the world differently
Part I | Perception: people will believe vs. reality: people just don’t care
Part II | Perception: it’s like building a house vs. Reality: it’s like running a farm
Part III | Perception: it’s a paint-by-numbers vs. Reality: you paint it like pollock
Part IV | Perception: the risk manager’s job is to manage risk vs. Reality: to run a company
Part V | Perception: we can control everything vs. Reality: we can only influence