How to Fail

Reasons Civilizations Fail

from Jared Diamond
Author of “Guns, Germs & Steel”
1. Failure to anticipate a problem before it arrives
2. Failure to see a problem once it arrives
3. Failure to even try to solve a problem once they have perceived it
4. Failure to solve a problem that they are trying to solve.
http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/diamond03/diamond_index.html

Diamond presents a simple taxonomy of failure.  Much of what risk management attempts to do is to prevent failures.

So a risk manager can use this list as a control list for risk management practices.

Failure to anticipate a problem before it arrives – this appplies to both emerging risks as well as identified risks. Anticipating a problem means more than just fretting about it; it means preparing for it as well.

Failure to see a problem once it arrives. Knowing of a risk, but not knowing when that risk becomes risky is almost as bad as not knowing about the risk at all.  The risk manager needs to assist the business manager in identifying when risk is risky.  In addition, there needs to be a process for identifying emerging risks, especially those that are just about emerged. 

Failure to even try to solve a problem once they have perceived it As Diamond points in his books, sometimes people fail to act because they know that the first action would be to stop or reduce something that is really important to them.  This part of the risk management role falls on the CEO.  The CEO needs to be able to take the reins out of the hand of the frozen manager.  And if it is the CEO that is frozen, then the board needs to act.

Failure to solve a problem that they are trying to solve. In the risk management context, this occurs when the standard rules and tools just do not work.  The risk manager needs to reframe the problem along with a scramble for alternate tools while throwing out the rules.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Action, People Risk, Unknown Risks

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One Comment on “How to Fail”

  1. Andrew Howe Says:

    Nice article. The “edge” link you give is one letter out: it should be http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/diamond03/diamond_index.html i.e. needs the html (not just htm) extension.


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