The Duality of Uncertainty


November 2004

It is my mandate to embed risk management
To successfully embed risk management and make it a systemic capability, every mind needs to be retooled. It is not enough to have little islands of risk management capability: we need thousands, not tens of individuals to have this capability; we need a major cultural shift for the organization, top-level support and a lot of time.

Embedding risk may not be a measurable objective
We have dozens of measures focused on cost, efficiency and customer satisfaction. Can we systematically benchmark other companies on risk management? Can employees have personal performance metrics related to risk management? If so, how do you measure success and failure?

The duality of uncertainty
Risk is commonly defined (or believed to be) the uncertainty that hinders the attainment of our objectives. However, the Duality of Uncertainty suggests if there are bad risks that hinder, there must also be good risks that facilitate.

If the captain of a ship asks the first mate – who is trained to look for harmful risks – to stand in the crow’s nest high a top the vessel to look for threats, doesn’t it stand to reason that so long as he is up there, he should also be looking for opportunities?

Embedding any solution must address the Duality of Uncertainty. The bad and the good. The risks and the innovations.

Embedding innovation is a measurable objective
Innovation is understood so it can be promoted and it can be seen so it can be measured. Innovation must be embedded into your company’s culture first because it is easier to encourage thousands of employees to embrace the discovery of good ideas – that will benefit everyone – than to teach them how to reject their individual threats.

As an additional benefit, making innovation a systemic capability makes good business sense because the unconventional creates competitive advantages.

Why not innovate?
I believe every company is filled with dreamers like Robert F. Kennedy who said: “dream of things that never were and ask ‘why not?’” The dreamers want to change the world but don’t know how to share their ideas. They demand more than just a pay cheque. They want a chance to make a difference.

Risk management redux
When the leaders of this company train me to share innovative ideas, doesn’t it stand to reason that once I am encouraged to identify opportunities and solutions, I will start identifying threats as well? Yes!

Let’s begin today
In the long-term, innovation facilitates the embedding of risk management as a systemic capability; in the short-term it provides you with inspiration and a competitive advantage that will continue to differentiate from your competitors’ outdated strategies.

Gary Hamel said that while you can’t bottle lightning, you can build lightning rods. You need to find your innovators, provide them with lightning rods so innovation can flourish. Let’s begin handing out lightning rods and start making lightning.

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