Review of Tame, Messy and Wicked Risk Leadership

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There are always things that go wrong. No matter how hard we try to control everything there will always be something that breaks our hard work. After reading David Hancock’s book Tame, Messy, and Wicked Risk Leadership, I was astonished at how easy it was to blame others for my mistakes.
Hancock believes that the world is more complex and difficult than traditional risk management models can handle. Hancock suggests that we should examine the world’s sociology, philosophy and politics in order to find new ways of interacting with risk.
This is because the equation risk = probability + consequence doesn’t work when there is a knowledge gap. By obtaining more information and analysing it, you can reduce risk.
What to do if you don’t have the knowledge
Sometimes all the knowledge in the world won’t suffice to reduce risk. He said:
Yesterday’s response is only a hint at tomorrow’s. Tomorrow’s responses may differ from yesterday’s. Today’s conditions won’t ever return to the exact same state as they are today. We don’t know the future. There is no risk in this world, except for uncertainty about other people’s decisions and how we can respond.
Hancock’s description works best for large complex projects that involve multiple stakeholders, such public sector initiatives. Hancock uses space exploration and transport as examples to illustrate the scale of the problem. He also says it is not wise to separate risk management between different functions or initiatives when dealing large projects.
Before we can assume responsibility, we need to address all uncertainties that may be facing an organisation at any given moment and how they relate.
He then explains it in action, explaining the recent financial crises with clarity that rivals Robert Peston’s headline-grabbing approach.
Tame, Messy and Wicked
The bulk of the book is dedicated to how to deal with complicated, wicked and tame issues. Here’s a summary.
These are known as “tame issues” because they have “simple linear causal relations with clear beginnings and endings.” These situations can be managed using traditional risk management. The process involves gathering data, analyzing the situation, creating a mitigation plan, then implementing it.
These are known as “messy issues” and cannot be solved by one person. These problems can be solved by systems thinking. He uses traffic congestion as an example. It is impossible to solve it by raising road tax or widening the motorways. We all agree that traffic jams can be dangerous, but there are many other issues.
What are your risk factors? We can solve any problem as long as we have a common social theory. Without that, we will have wicked problems. These are the areas where the proposed solution is likely to depend less on a probability model and more on your view of the world. There is no single right answer and five different ways that risk can be managed by stakeholders.
Leadership in managing risk
Although the book’s title refers to risk leadership, the book’s final pages are where the discussion about it starts. There are only two pages that explain risk leadership. I felt let down.
Leadership in risk involves helping others to deal with uncertainty and facilitation.