The ultimate risk for a public institution
A recent strike by Toronto Transit Commission workers presents an interesting case demonstrating how unexpected behaviour can swiftly damage reputation.
From sigh of relief to gasp of disbelief
Last week, city of Toronto residents, collectively, took a huge sigh of relief. The city and union officials, representing the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers, had just negotiated a deal that promised to advert a crippling strike.
Granted, the deal had to be ratified by the union executive and accepted by members. However, given that the deal seemed generous, and that negotiations seemed long and arduous, most residents did not expect a strike. Union spokespersons had also made it clear that any possible strike would be preceded by 48 hours of notice.
So when transit workers walked off the job on Friday evening (April 25th 2008), without notice, creating havoc for thousands of people whose plans depended on the service, the collective sigh of relief became a gasp of disbelief. A diverse mixture of views and emotions about TTC workers, union leadership, and city officials got thrown into a public pot that started to brew early Saturday morning.
Here’s our review of Felix Kloman’s new book, The Fantods of Risk, Essays on Risk Management.
The word fantod is an unusual word, especially coming from an expert on risk management. Felix Kloman has practiced the discipline and written authoritatively on the subject for many years.
The word, which refers to a mind in a state of restlessness, has an interesting literary history. It’s been associated with some … well, restless characters: for instance, Charles Dickens memorable Mr. Pickwick and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. Here’s how Huck uses the word in a comment about the impact of his Aunt’s “pictures” on him:
“These was all nice pictures, I reckon, but I didn’t somehow seem to take to them, because if ever I was down a little, they always give me the fantods.”
Huck was at unease about the practices of a civilized world, which he viewed through the lens of superstitions and his unconventional experiences.
The word fantod in the title of this book, then, serves to remind readers who think they know a lot about risk that they should never delude themselves about uncertainty. It is inappropriate to feel certainty in the face of uncertainty. It’s reasonable, however, that risk should give you the fantods!
This is not an admission that risk management has little value. It’s a statement of conviction that, when confronted with risk, a know-it-all attitude must never super-cede inquiry, curiosity, careful thinking, and even some humility.
To reduce risk, expand your awareness of the risks and what’s happening in your jurisdiction
Bravado and confidence, admirable in some fields, can be disastrous if unchecked in high-risk professionals
In the past few months we’ve been reading about the public inquiry into Dr. Charles Smith, the Ontario pathologist whose questionable testimony led to wrongful convictions, and the financial scandal generated when French trader Jerome Kerviel evaded bank controls leading to the loss of 4.9 billion euros at Societe Generale SA.
The Dr. Smith case is particularly disturbing. Smith was a forensic child pathologist with no training in forensics – none was required or available in Canada when he rose to prominence. In frequent testimony as an expert witness, Smith, by his own admission, supported the prosecution in disregard of his obligation to provide balanced, objective testimony. Smith’s poor practices and mistakes, many of which date back to the early ’90s, resulted in wrongful imprisonment and financial and emotional devastation for several Ontario families.
Through the lens of risk management
The Smith (and Kerviel) examples illustrate how we are underestimating risk and using inadequate controls. Continue reading