Business Unusual – Be in Charge of Your Own Disruption

February 27, 2019

The dawning of the fourth industrial revolution is set to fundamentally alter so much of what we’ve become accustomed to. Take a moment to reflect on the dynamic nature of work, travel, leisure and relationships in your own life, and compare it the far slower and more stable evolution our parents and their parents experienced, and it becomes glaringly obvious that the current rate of transformation is anything but steady. From AI to big data analytics, bio-innovation to anti-ageing breakthroughs, the leaps and bounds in the transport industry to the highly intrusive yet connecting internet of things, from blockchain to fake rain, very few aspects of our life will remain unaffected by the rapid acceleration in the evolution of technology. Some theories argue that humankind is already quite far along the road on its progression into a fifth major stage of evolution. We’ve managed to navigate our way through the Australopithecine, Pithecanthropine, Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon chapters. Are we about to evolve from a hominid into some sort of human/machine symbiont? And if so, are we as risk practitioners able to even conceptualise a risk environment so affected by decisions made by non-human intelligence, far beyond our current cognitive abilities.

If one looks at the recently released 2019 IRMSA Risk Report, compiled to create awareness of the risks facing the achievement of the South African country and industry objectives, four out of the top twenty overall industry risks can be directly linked to the transformative effect of technology, namely cyber-attacks, information security, disruptive technologies and the impact of new technology. But, quite frankly the fourth industrial revolution will send a shockwave through each and every risk category, regardless of whether there is a direct link to technology or not. How will robotisation affect skills shortages? Would the “Arab Spring” uprising have been as successful without the use of Twitter? If WikiLeaks and the technology platform that makes it possible didn’t exist would we ever have discovered the extent of NSA spying, the fudging of data in climate change research or the myriad examples of collusion between big business and governments across the world?

I don’t believe it is a stretch to suggest that technological advancements are in a large way responsible for the level of disclosure we are witnessing worldwide. The State Capture Inquiry, SARS Commission, PIC Inquiry, NPA Commission, Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee Eskom Enquiry, the Banking Royal Commission in Australia, the Commission of Inquiry into post-election violence in Zimbabwe, and the United Nations Commissions of Inquiry into Gaza, Syria, Myanmar and others. I’m sure it’s not just me, but it’s becoming a little difficult to keep up with the number of commissions currently running their rule over dodgy practices, corrupt dealings, and downright evil behaviour. Are we facing a new dawn of disclosure and transparency, or is this purely a symptom of technology assisting in connecting the dots? Either way, it sure seems evident that the skeletons are greased, and not much is preventing them from sliding out of the cupboard. Would this same scenario have been possible 20 years ago?

Noted futurist Graham Codrington in his contribution to the 2019 IRMSA Risk Report summarised it so perfectly when he said, “The last two decades have been preparation for what we’re about to experience. At some levels, we merely developed the key building blocks for deep change…, (and) these are also fuelling deep structural changes in politics, economics and society itself. Every aspect of our world is currently in flux”. Change is disruptive and exponential, which necessitates disruptive and exponential thinking. And if risk managers are to develop or hone the art of disruptive and exponential thinking, it requires the ability to have an open, unbiased approach to the gathering and analysis of risk information. Some questions we should be asking ourselves are:

  • Does your organization encourage the cross-examination and interrogation of existing processes, and do you embolden your staff and other stakeholders to ask difficult questions? And to this point, what is your disclosure/whistle-blower policy?
  • Do you have plans in place to ensure your organization survives disruption, or do you embrace and encourage disruption as a positive agent for change? Disruption cannot be avoided, it must be harnessed.
  • Do you gather as many different perspectives on the subject matter as possible? A diversity of thoughts, and the encouragement of thinking that might disagree with the norm is incredibly valuable in developing a broader picture.
  • Does your organization foster and engender future thinking as a way to enable better decision-making? The ability to imagine, analyse and articulate future scenarios has become and will increasingly continue to be an invaluable item in any risk management toolkit.

Author – Paul van der Struys
February 2019

IRMSA Risk Report South Africa Risks 2019 5th Edition