The risk of risk departments
Nassim Taleb’s 2007 book ‘The Black Swan’ has been back in discussion recently as people debate whether the economic crisis fits the category of ‘black swans’ – something no-one could have predicted, but of which a single occurrence invalidates previous beliefs (such as ‘All swans are white’). Did anyone really predict the banking crisis? Certainly no-one acted to prevent it.
Taleb’s thesis reminds us of what someone called ‘the risk of risk departments’ – by having a department devoted to risk, you create the illusion that you have dealt with it. In fact, what often derails strategy is what nobody is dealing with – how people behave. A strong culture can be a powerful asset, but I believe it can also entrench behaviours (such as conformism and consensus) that inhibit innovation.