Charging into the Valley of Death

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
“Charge for the guns!” he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

From Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 In about 30 minutes, over 2/3 of the British Light Brigade were slaughtered in 1854.  Horsemen with swords charged cannon and rifles and grapeshot.   Tennyson made it sound grand and brave and somehow an admirable thing.  But Tennyson points out the the fact that it made no sense to do what they were doing – that the soldiers knew it.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Military schools have used the story of the charge as an example of what can go wrong when intelligence is weak at the command center and when orders are ambiguous.

The Earl of Cardigan who was in command, reported to Parliament:

But what, my Lord, was the feeling and what the bearing of those brave men who returned to the position. Of each of these regiments there returned but a small detachment, two-thirds of the men engaged having been destroyed? I think that every man who was engaged in that disastrous affair at Balaklava, and who was fortunate enough to come out of it alive, must feel that it was only by a merciful decree of Almighty Providence that he escaped from the greatest apparent certainty of death which could possibly be conceived.

You might ask what this might have to do with Risk Management?

While the willingness to follow orders might have appealed to the Victorian English, those are not the sort of folks that you want handling risk.  Following orders that are that far wrong is not what you want someone doing with the  risks to your firm’s existence.

You want people in both your risk management area and in the front line areas where there is the most risk taking to be the sorts who question authority when they do not understand why a new order makes sense.

Risk needs to be attended to at both the center and the fringes.  And thoughtfully attended to.  When the risk seems high to someone, that should be a signal to reconsider.

Explore posts in the same categories: Risk, Risk Culture

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