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During a break today, I was taking a look at the headlines at I most enjoyed the irony in the timing of MoneySense magazine’s announcement that Ottawa-Gatineau was ranked as the best place to live in Canada. Because at the same time, a 3.5-magnitute earthquake stuck the Ottawa Valley area.


Physical security (graffiti?) is something that many risk professionals and auditors take seriously. Most organizations issue access cards to their employees, often configured differently to various floors or parts of the office. It’s well known that thieves will sometimes piggy back off someone coming into the office when polite employees hold the door open for strangers who appear to work there. (To mitigate that risk, simply asking “can I help you” will often deter the bad guy.) Alternatively, I’ve seen places install turnstiles in the lobby so only one person can get in at a time.

Doors are often configured so you need to swipe your access card to get into the designated area, while a motion sensor or pushing a button is required to unlock the door from the others side to get out.

Against that backdrop, I’d like to send All of My Love out to my friend Jimmy for sharing this tale. While working late In The Evening,  Jimmy noticed that one of the construction workers working there after hours, had slipped a file folder between the space in the glass doors and Hot Dog!, this tricked the motion sensor into unlocking the door and he got In Through the Out Door.  So much for high-tech security.

After this potential security breach was identified, Jimmy had to deactivate the motion sensor: the only way to exit is from pushing the button and that ended the threat of access by file folder. But here’s the rub: although the button is just 3 feet from the door the door, it releases the lock for less than one second. This is not enough time to get out. Effectively, exiting became a two-person job: you push the button while I open the door. It’s like some Fool in the Rain invented this technology.

In the end, the button was reconfigured to last longer.

I never would have predicted that a parent magazine would have been fodder for a risk management post but there it was on the coffee table begging to be read it like an infant crying for attention.

It’s not surprising that states and provinces passed laws that ban talking and/or texting for drivers when, as the article notes, “Talking on the phone makes people four times as likely to crash, but texting makes a crash 23 times more likely”.  I no longer talk in the car except on the rare occasion when I cannot find my douche bag Bluetooth ear piece: I feel shame if another driver witnesses a phone up to my ear. It’s like my BlackBerry is a scarlet letter on my face.

But after the phone risk is addressed, I think parents are still equally distracted by crying babies, infant siblings fighting in the back seats and the dreaded right-arm-reach-around to retrieve a juice box that recently fell that drips its red punch all over the beige floor mats when you squeeze it too hard.

While these risks can also be mitigated by giving babies soothers, separating brothers from sister and banning food in the car, there is still one other distraction which in the past nearly caused me to drive off the road: Howard Stern.

I haven’t listen to the King of all Media in a few years but there was a two year period when I could listen on my drive to work and laugh so hard that the tears in my eyes actually impaired my vision.  The point is, while technology has created new driving risks, driving a motor vehicle has always been a risky endeavor and continues to require our undivided attention.

 A story in the National Post today describes the stats behind a decline of religious affiliation in many countries. A researcher explains: “There’ll be a continuing loss of membership among people who identify themselves as belonging to a religion. Over time, we could reach a time where society is dominated by people who claim religious non-affiliation”.

Most businesses have options but not the religion business. If you’re McDonald’s and see a decline in sales of Big Macs because people want healthier food choices you change your menu and give them salads. If you’re GM and see a decline in sales of gas guzzling SUVs because people want cars with better fuel economy you stop making Hummers and sell more Cruzes. But if you’re in the religion business, say a Baptist minister and see a decline in your “sales” then what’s the strategy in this day and age?

The book by Robert Sutton called The No Asshole Rule was brought to my attention by the blog Managed by Walking Around. I’ve read and enjoyed some of Sutton’s other books including those co-authored by Jeffrey Pfeffer and hope to get to this one shortly.

With this in mind, I felt like writing about some of the assholes I’ve had the good fortune of working for in my career. While these assholes made my life miserable thanks to their bullying, harassment and halitosis they also taught me how to be a better manager; I want to lead by being the complete opposite of those guys.

Here are a couple of my Assholes which I’ve rated according to the ARSE scale published by blogger and guru Guy Kawasaki:

Asshole #1: “Gordon Gekko” (not his real name)
Kawasaki scale: Full Blow Certified Asshole
“Gordon” was an old school institutional trader whose annual bonus was significant enough to provide him with a sense of entitlement. I bet he walked around thinking: “I make a lot of money for this firm so I can yell at you, and bully or abuse anyone I want. And I will hire hot executive assistants. If you don’t like me F you and quit. Boo-yaaah.”

When I wasn’t wishing testicular cancer on him, I would ponder why no one in HR was doing anything about this guy. And I was looking for another job.

Eventually I left that organization (recall: people don’t quit companies, they quit managers) and jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Asshole #2: “David Howard” (not his real name)
Kawasaki scale: Does not apply as he exceeded it.
Riskczar scale: Evil Sonofabitch.

Although a nice lady interviewed me and hired me, she was fired shortly after I joined and so I began reporting to “David”. This asshole lacked empathy, people skills or a slim waistline. He cut his teeth on trading desks like “Gordon”. Even though I had developed a thick skin thanks to “Gordon” this asshole still penetrated my defences. “David” managed to make my life and the lives of those who worked for him miserable too. At one point he explained to me and my team how we should move to another part of the bank or quit. (And not through inference – he flat-out said it.) He couldn’t wait to get rid of us to hire his own lemings. Shortly after I left, they realized the Asshole had no clothes and he was sacked.

Much time has passed and I have moved on but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t take pleasure to see him laying in a gutter someplace “left in his anguish wallowing in freakish misery forever”.

Life’s too short having to work for assholes. If you hate getting out of bed in the morning because you report to a “Gordon” or “David”, you must quit. Leave. It will harm your home life and the way you act with everyone around you. You deserve more. Just smile, placate your Asshole and get the hell out of there.


By the way, I only scored a “4” on the 24-question true or false Asshole Rating Self-Exam by Guy Kawasaki, which is very low. Try the test yourself.

If you’ve worked for a Full Blow Certified Asshole please share by leaving your comments below.

Kawasaki’s ARSE Scale

0 to 5 “True”: You don’t sound like a certified asshole, unless you are fooling yourself.

5 to 15 “True”: You sound like a borderline certified asshole, perhaps the time has come to start changing your behavior before it gets worse.

15 or more: You sound like a full-blown certified asshole to me, get help immediately. But, please, don’t come to me for help, as I would rather not meet you.

I used to watch Dora the Explorer with my daughter, a cartoon about a “7-year-old girl who embarks on a trip in every episode in order to find something or help somebody”. In every show she consults the map in her backpack, known as Map, who tells Dora how to get to her destination.

What I found troubling was that Map always puts our protagonist in harm’s way. Always subjecting her to unnecessary risk.

For example, if Dora is trying to get to Grandma’s house or return her library books on time, Map never tells her to walk down that path and hang a left at the park. Map always takes Dora on these Indiana Jones adventures over crocodile infested waters, across the Dementor Forest, and through a protest in Tripoli.

Map is evil.

It is okay to take some risks to accomplish your objectives but sometimes there is no value in taking Extreme risks when the reward doesn’t justify it. There is a right amount of risk for the relative return but you shouldn’t put yourself in mortal danger to achieve your objectives.

I don’t portray myself to be either a statistician or an actuary but I do have the (mis)fortune of having some idea about how probabilities and odds work and often in risk management you have to evaluate the likelihood of things happening. In our everyday lives and business we often fabricate decisions to treat risks when we really don’t know the probabilities associated with the risks nor have a mechanism for measuring them; we pull subjective values out of the air (read: arse) and we do a pretty terrible job at it.

Against this backdrop, it’s fun to watch how excited people get when they buy a lottery ticket or games of chance even though they are unaware of the odds of winning. I am part of a group of folks who buys weekly tickets in the office and while it’s nice to dream about winning, I don’t really expect to win. Here are some examples why:

  • For $2.50 I have a 1-in-29 million shot at $50 million in Lotto Max.
  • For $2.00 I have a 1-in-14 million shot at $7 million in the 6/49.
  • For $100 I have 1-in-10 chance at winning a $2 million house or a barbecue in the Princesss Margaret Hospital Lottery.
  • For the price of a cup of coffee, I have a 1-in-7 million shot at a Toyota Matrix or 1-in-6 shot at winning a doughnut or cup of coffee in Tim Hortons’s ubiquitous Roll Up the Rim contest.

My cousin recently portrayed me as Dr Doom for suggesting that because he won 2 free coffees with the first two cups he bought at Tim Hortons (likelihood 1/6 * 1/6 = 1/36),  he was pretty unlikely to win again – on average – until he bought 15 more losing cups of coffee.  (It’s not me but the odds talking.)

The way I see it, in our everyday lives we pay for the chance to win without really understanding the probabilities and similarly we spend resources (time and money) on projects to treat risks in our organizations without having a mechanism for knowing if that’s the “riskiest thing” we are fixing relative to all the other risks in our organizations.


While it may appear to be a flagrant act of cross-blog-promotion, here’s Riskview’s brilliant response my post from this week called My appetite for risk and cheesecake. In my piece, I wrote about how my brother wanted to travel to Morocco while protests were going on in the Middle East and how my significant other wanted to drive to Buffalo in advance of a pending snow storm.

In both cases, I explained their appetite for risk was greater than mine, but Riskview explains it this way:

(My brother and significant other) are not acting irrationally, they are acting according to their own rationality.

This would be irrational, except for the fact that in some periods of time, they are correct.

Once they start to notice that their view of risk is no longer correct, slowly but surely they eventually change their risk attitude to adjust to the current reality.

Have a look at the entire post Risk Appetite and Risk Attitude.

On a trip to Portugal and Spain last month, my brother elected to take a minor detour and visited Morocco in the midst of “a revolution sweeping the Arab world” as he wrote on his blog. He was monitoring the protests in the other states and determined that despite minor rumblings in Morocco, the coast was clear. The risk was more elevated than it was maybe six months ago, but still within his appetite for risk.

I would have exercised a bit more restraint; after all, there were massive protests underway only two doors down in Libya. But this illustrates how each of us has a unique risk appetite. The amount of risk I am likely to expose myself to is different (read: less) than my brother. Why go to Morocco if you don’t have to?

Building on this point, the same week my brother was travelling to the Arab world, my significant other wanted us to take the two hour drive across the border to Buffalo, NY from our home north of Toronto. Buffalo is an interesting place. Right on the edge of Lake Erie, a minor snowfall in Toronto can result in 2 feet of lake effect snow in Buffalo. This is not my favourite winter destination (despite the Cheesecake Factory and Target) because the snow may just come out of nowhere. Even though I grew up in Montreal and drive pretty well in the snow, and the storm wasn’t expected to hit the area until hours after we left town, I was in no mood to get trapped on the I-190 with nothing but a slice of Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple.

My significant other mocked me for not going. It would appear her appetite for risk (and cheesecake) was greater than mine.