The anatomy of risk assessment: Prelude

When you’re lost for words, it is the past masters who show their perennial relevancy. Plato once said: “Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.”

We thought that a rather brilliant definition of what it is to be human, which is to say, the quality of existing that separates us from the rest of the animals. It is by no means an absolute description, but one which is fairly comprehensive. It its terse compose, it manages to say a lot in but a handful of words.

“I’m not going to talk about checklists, compliance standard or the things you must assess…you can all go out and buy books for that,” said Thom Langford, senior manager, Global Security Office, Sapient, as he opened his presentation at the latest RANT forum in London last month. Here he abandoned technical jargon in favour of something more human; a fitting embodiment of Plato’s succinct thoughts on humanism.

Entitled the Anatomy of a Risk Assessment, Mr Langford stuck to his guns, delivering a talk that was not conventional at all. It was a breath of fresh air, engaging and most of all, as an antithesis of the textbook approach – very perceptive in its scope. In using the human body as an analogy of risk assessment, he was able to articulate ideas, observations and suggestions in a dynamic way.

As a slight aside from the topic at hand, can we just say that this is an approach we really admire. There is a body of educational philosophy that concerns itself with the need for more creativity in academic life – from pre-school right through to adult learning – which leads to and engenders a much more engaging environment. Mr Langford was exemplary of this.

Anyway, the structure of the talk was based on the constituent parts of the human body. The association of the two – that is the cadaver and the risk management sector – is, we think, a new one. Who else has thought to analogise the feet to an audit’s purpose? Or for the eyes to be used as a way to describe the importance of being vigilant from as soon as a risk assessment begins?

For those of you involved in risk assessments, there’s a lot that can be derived from this presentation in terms of delivery. For example, let’s say you’re tasked with a new client and you’re brainstorming ideas as to the approach you’re going to take. We accept that in some instances you will have certain templates and structures in place that allow you to answer questions effectively and efficiently. Brilliant; we’re not knocking this, but pause for a moment and allow yourself a moment to think outside of the box. How else can you deliver the same high standards, but in a way that is more engaging for both you and your client? It doesn’t have to result in a clear cut answer – that might come later. The merit is in allowing yourself to be innovative.

There’s a video of the talk online, where you can see for yourself Mr Langford’s foray into the anatomy of this continuingly evolving branch of work, which is advised viewing. Complementing that will be the second part of this blog, which will, to lend a metaphor from the medical world, get beneath the flesh of some of the central ideas put across. In the meantime, we do hope you enjoy this thoroughly comprehensive and brilliant way of looking at risk assessment.

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