The swift pace of life today coupled with the overriding requirement in the business world to remain in constant contact might open us up to being targeted by those who would steal our identities, money or other highly valued possessions. Phillip Wood outlines why, on occasion, risk management must be about taking risks and breaking free from programmed ideas and mindsets.
Let’s be honest – it’s part of the human condition. We’ve always been attracted to attractive things, whether they’re those things that give us pleasure or perhaps offer a reward of some sort. All of us are interested in – and attracted by – sights, smells and experiences that make us feel our lives are somehow better than is perhaps the reality.
In the present technological and highly interconnected age, there are now far more ‘shiny things’ available to us than at any time in days gone by. We can go where we please, we can buy what we like and we can see and experience just about everything we need to.
It’s an attractive prospect, and we in the Western World flock in our millions to be entertained and rewarded in our everyday lives. It’s part of who we are, and we’re allowed to indulge more than we ever have in our need to procure exactly what we want.
Criminals and adversaries love this status quo. They see us as distracted and gullible ‘punters’ who are so focused upon the rewards and benefits of what we do and how we act that we’re unable to witness our own vulnerabilities and the potential impacts they might have upon us. They’re justified in doing so.
We push our details to the world on the Internet through social media, while at the same time we’re moving our purchasing habits online. The former element of this behavioural shift is around our need to feel that we’re being noticed – or even loved – by ‘imagined’ friends, the latter around the fact we’re looking for an easier and maybe less demanding route to purchasing what we want and need.
There’s no doubt that the ever-quickening pace of life combined with our need to remain in contact while we’re highly mobile – not to mention squeezing every last opportunity for constant contact out of our tablets and smart phones – opens us up to the targeting of those who would steal our identities, our money or elements of our property.
Attraction to the attractive
Our attraction to the attractive isn’t confined to the virtual world of the armchair shopper or the social surfer, either. As has always been the case, we like to travel, see new places, explore and transact business. We travel to countries where we don’t understand the language and where we can be conspicuous by our appearance and relative wealth. This makes us a target for criminals of every type.
If we’re in business we may become the beneficiaries of an espionage effort. If we’re tourists in a city, or on a beach, in a nightclub or at an airport then we can be subject to violent attack. We attend football matches and use public transport networks, the latter of which have been the targets of criminal activity ever since they first existed.
Now, we have an additional compounding issue: our sheer numbers. There are millions of us exploring the world, looking for both challenges and challenging environments. The world is looking back at us and, in an extension of the idea that war developed in the 20th Century to include civilians as collateral to military action, civilians are now the prime target of ‘asymmetric’ armed action and, indeed, insidious undetectable cyber threats.
However, we continue to be seduced by the ‘shiny things’ regardless of the problems and issues – and, yes, the threats – allied to them.
Why do we act this way?
It’s interesting to think about why we do act in this way. Innately and unconsciously, it seems that we all conduct some form of unconscious risk assessment and go about our business and leisure activities while sometimes, at least, we can see that there’s chaos all around us.
Is it because we feel that it’s happening to someone else and not to us? Perhaps this is something that becomes prevalent as we consider the interconnected world and the potential effects of threats being brought somewhat closer to home.
Is it because the overriding feeling for most of us is that we should ignore the risks and continue to seek and pursue what makes us feel better rather than admitting to the fact that we’re living under significant threat? Do we even feel that the risks exist at all?
During World War I, it was said that the artillery bombardments on the battlefields of France could be heard pretty clearly in parts of England. However, life back home continued, with citizens cushioned against these daily horrors while all the time aware that something very bad was happening not too far away.
Today, cushioned by the fact that we haven’t experienced such horrors ourselves as yet, we look on at the atrocities in Paris and wider Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and the ongoing refugee crisis and we simply determine to carry on. Is there a significant risk posed to us here in the UK? The received wisdom and all the signs indicate that there is, and that it’s merely a matter of time before we become the focus and target of significant terrorist activity, with crowded places – the very spaces that attract us in our quest for social interaction, entertainment and consumption – being the probable epicentre.
A common thread across all of these risk and security issues, be they coming at us from a computer or a rifle, is the problem of a lack of awareness. To begin with, if we look at any number of issues, such as geopolitical problems, conflicts and concerns, the very fact that we just don’t know what’s to come clearly offers real uncertainty. We perhaps add to this uncertainty by assuming that the problem is someone else’s.
Maybe the whole issue around lack of awareness is compounded by the fact that we feel our own certainties can influence outcomes in some shape or form.
The conflicts played out in the world’s dangerous places are the domain of the military, the politicians and the victims whose suffering we see, but cannot feel. Under current conditions, where we don’t suffer the effects, we perhaps feel that this will remain a constant and certainty. As we are neither military personnel, politicians nor victims at the present time, the situations we see will prevail.
Basis for human response
Due to this, we have no basis for a human response – there’s nothing of concern. However, only by controlling all uncertainties can we develop certainty in response, and we will never be able to do that.
It’s probably true to say that, in looking at anything that may impact upon us, individually or as organisations and societies, there are no certainties. To some extent at least, any planned response will always be a reaction to what happens. We can no more predict now how we will respond and react than we can predict the future with any degree of certainty. However, we should absolutely recognise that, for many, ignorance is bliss.
In the context of managing all of this – and realising that management is simply about people working together effectively – it may well be useful to identify our realities.
Real resilience is about mindsets and approach. The future of resilience is that of the properly self-analytical and self-aware individual and organisation. Resources and planning, good intentions and blame are immaterial when the test proves that there are multiple failings in recognising and dealing with criticality, cause, effect and impact.
Not only that, but it’s perhaps sensible for organisations and individuals alike to consider and analyse what happens elsewhere and to think about some inevitable truths. Virtual or real, tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, threats and risks are out there now to be either ignored or recognised.
On occasion, the management of risk is about taking risk and breaking free from our coded and programmed history, ideas, prejudices and those aforementioned mindsets.
Using a device linked to the Internet can cost us money. Our travelling, leisure and entertainment needs may cost more than money, and our response to those issues as hard-wired, acquisitive and conditioned human beings means that we find ourselves embedded within a risk-reward equation.
For all of us, the biggest risk factor is this: what has brought us progress is our ability to balance risk issues and carry on. Undoubtedly that’s an admirable trait, but it may leave us a little exposed if we’re not thinking about what happens if and when the impacts arise.
Phillip Wood MBE MSc is Head of the School for Management and Professional Studies and Head of Department for Security and Resilience at Buckinghamshire New University