BarnOwl Info Sharing Insight: Hack Uncertainty with Simon van Wyk

September 10, 2019

BarnOwl Info Sharing session: 29 August 2019

Hack Uncertainty

Presented by Simon van Wyk, Infrastructure Advisory, Aurecon

Thank you very much Simon for your hard hitting presentation at our BarnOwl info sharing event held at the BarnOwl offices in Bryanston on the 29 August 2019.


We all wondered about the strange title of the presentation; ‘Hack Uncertainty’ which many of us may have thought was going to be about tools and techniques used in the hacking of systems. Simon used words such as ‘Hack’ uncertainty and ‘Crush’ uncertainty which are very strong words. It soon became apparent in Simon’s presentation why he is so passionate / forceful in terms of taking uncertainty so seriously and the need to ‘crush’ uncertainty.

Simon and his wife personally felt the raw emotions and full impact of uncertainty when their daughter was abducted from their house at the age of 10 months old in 2013. Simon and his wife are one of the lucky 23% who got their daughter back unscathed. Had Simon and his wife not had the identification details of their domestic worker and where she lived and where her husband worked they may never have seen their daughter again. These were the immense benefits of choosing not to leave uncertainty to chance. Just this past week we saw Amy-Lee de Jager, a Grade R pupil kidnapped outside her primary school in Vanderbijlpark. Amy-Lee’s parents are also amongst the lucky ones who got their daughter back. The stats indicate that a child is taken every 5 hours in South African with a 23% recovery rate.

This certainly brings home the absolute imperative to manage uncertainty or as Simon puts it to crush uncertainty. Imagine if your life depended on how well you managed your risks / uncertainties. So why should we not apply the same tenacity in managing risk within our organisation in order to guarantee a sustainable future for our organisation, our people and our planet.
Understanding uncertainty is critical however if we don’t change our perspective and actually make the choice to play around with these concepts then the probability of uncertain events occurring is extremely high.

Simon’s presentation was definitely not a run of the mill theoretical risk management presentation. In fact Simon hardly mentioned the word ‘risk’ in his presentation. Simon shared with us a very refreshing and novel way to look at various aspects involved when it comes to managing ‘uncertainty’.
Our part as risk managers is to understand the best possible version of uncertainty!


Where you are:

  • Context is in a state of flux. It changes and won’t stop changing!
  • Perception can be influenced by childhood, culture, colleagues, the nature of your business which all give rise to perceptual blindness.

Where you ought to be:

  • It is possible to gain perspective “with certainty” if you can get your head around context and perception.


Contextual Flux

We all know about IQ and EQ but did we know about AQ (Adaptability Quotient) and CQ (Certainty Quotient)? We live in a fast changing world and know that we need to adapt but would also like a high degree of certainty in order to make the right decisions. In a state of contextual flux, CQ should be greater or equal to AQ in order to manage uncertainty.
If CQ < AQ you will introduce new risks. Our part of the equation as risk managers is to understand the best possible version of that uncertainty.

Symptoms of risk and connecting / creating the dots

Don’t react to uncertainty; rather choose to take on uncertainty. Don’t just connect the dots but choose to create the dots.

Take heed of the symptoms: Why didn’t I see this coming? There are often many warning signs. If we can isolate the symptom and get rid of that symptom, the risk then no longer applies. Choose to start looking for the symptoms, isolate the symptom and do your best to resolve a symptom verses trying to resolve the risk. Risk is complex and not just a one liner on a risk report.

If we can isolate the symptom and get rid of that symptom, the risk then no longer applies. Risk is complex and not just a one liner on a risk report.

More on Perspective

As we know, risk management is part science (e.g. quantification, targets, KRIs, KPIs, trends etc.) and even more part art. Possibly, human behaviour is the most difficult aspect when it comes to managing uncertainty. Understanding the behavioural aspects of people and more about what drives them and the decisions they make will assist us in managing uncertainty. BOB (Beauty of Bias). The cognitive bias codex illustrates circa. 200 different biases with new ones coming up all the time.
we as risk managers need to be aware of risk compensation biases. We need to leverage biases by sensing them in people and balancing them. Risk is created where we don’t have balanced biases.
Jeff de Graff’s new book, The Innovation Code, talks about the creative power of constructive conflict and the point of creative destruction.

Risk is created where we don’t have balanced biases. We become more orientated when we gain perspective.
John Sanei (futurist) in his new book ‘FOREsight’, talks about:

  • Hindsight: the perfect science,
  • Plain sight: the 5 senses,
  • Insight: which is questionable as a result of the institutionalised processes we have all been through, sequential methods of doing things, being highly qualified academically or in our jobs (i.e. done this for years) which means that we believe we have the ‘correct’ opinion.
  • Foresight: connecting / creating the dots to be able to see what’s coming and to get our heads around uncertainty for the future. The Institute of Future Research (IFR) talks about the 20:30:50 ratio: 20% on the past, 30% on the here and now and 50% on the future. Be vigilant of the type of people you are engaging with!

We should rather be asking ‘What ought to keep you awake at night?’ rather than ‘What keeps you awake at night?’….. We already know what keeps us awake at night. It’s a totally different conversation, when you ask what ought to keep you awake at night.

3D Thinking

Bias: Optimizing your biases
Essence: athlete, engineer, sage, artist,
Purpose: simplexity, the art of making difficult things simple
3D thinking gives you the vector effect with magnitude and direction

Combining Effect with Uncertainty

Effect / critical success factors
A reshuffle in importance and far more certainty on what needs to be done. i.e. Focus on the right stuff.

ISO31000: 2018, section 6.4.3 (Risk analysis) states that “the risk analysis may be influenced by any divergence of opinions, biases, perceptions of risk and judgements”. Interestingly, almost all risk professionals focus attention merely on the factors of risk e.g. consequence/likelihood or effectiveness of controls.

Definition of Risk Management: ‘The effect of uncertainty on an objective’. If you can get your head around the effect of something and the level of uncertainty you are managing the risks. Note that we have not mentioned the word ‘risk’.Focus on the right stuff

Future of Risk

Risk will become highly predictable, supported by Quantum Processing, IoT, ML, AI and robotics resulting in integrated digital convenience with a high degree of certainty.

As a risk manager we will be forced to ask ourselves ‘What do you need me for if I’m here to help manage uncertainty?’ We will be required to take a bold step and disrupt ourselves and not to be complacent about what we currently do because it works. For example, sought after talents and traits continually evolve: Creativity was ranked 10th in 2015 and is now ranked 3rd in 2020. A new trait in 2020 is cognitive flexibility given the fast changing and technologically integrated environment we live in.

‘The challenge for the modern day risk professional is to maintain a vigorous balance between the management of entities, items, systems and processes, and an understanding of and appreciation for the people involved in, on the fringes of and even outside of the organization that employs us.

Empathy, anger, compassion, humility, ego, emotion, morality, love, hate and consciousness, amongst others, are characteristics that are not easily understood, and in so much as we comprehend them, cannot be imparted on machines. This makes the human element of risk management that much more significant, in spite of the robotisation of the workplace.

Good communication skills, out-of-the-box thinking, effective conflict management, a grasp of psychological and philosophical ideologies and the ability to motivate people to action might potentially be more important than the usual items found on a recruitment advertisement for a risk manager’. Insights by Paul van der Struys, BarnOwl business development, August 2019
We will be required to take a bold step and disrupt ourselves

Our Role

We are the gate keepers of uncertainty tasked to have a strategy on how to manage uncertainty (uncertainty blueprint). Optimise AQ (adaptability quotient) and CQ (Certainty Quotient). We are in the era of ushering in hybrid autonomy (self-augmentation). Imagine 20 years from now. Exploit available tools, processes, technology to your best advantage now.
Simon van Wyk: ‘I don’t like to management uncertainty, I don’t like to manage risk; I like to SMASH UNCERTAINTY’


To hack uncertainty, you need to augment your perspective. You have to immerse yourself in the context and interrogate your perception. Through this, you stand to gain clarity of perspective.

Presentation and Video links:

Please see attached presentation here as well as video link here for more information.

Useful and associated links: by Paul van der Struys, BarnOwl business development, August 2019 The Role of the Future Risk Manager. Presented by Christopher Palm, Chief Risk Advisor, Institute of Risk Management SA (IRMSA) Risk Management Maturity (RMM), Presented by Dr Arthur Linke, University of Stellenbosch Business School, turricula risk advisory and member of the IRMSA Risk Intelligence Committee The Biggest Risks Are Sometimes the Ones We Never Talk About (People risks), Presented by Miles Crisp: CEO – Tarsus Technologies Group


The Evolution of Competition: Beyond the Red Queen, Presented by Mark Casey, Deloitte Director and Global TMT Executive How to manage invisible risks that threaten your business, Presented by Terence Singh,

Director, Ruhi Consulting and

Thank you:
Once again thank you Simon for your time and for your informative presentation and thank you to all those who attended our info sharing session. We look forward to seeing you at our next info sharing session. Please keep a look out for our upcoming events at:

Kind regards
Jonathan Crisp
Director – BarnOwl GRC and Audit software

About Simon van Wyk:

I am passionate (even obsessed) about isolating uncertainty and advising on targeted intervention to optimise risk where it matters most. I believe we can leverage uncertainty to position businesses and projects to succeed; that’s my differentiator.
I am a lead risk advisory consultant to Executive and Group Level Management advising businesses how to optimise risk management practices to aid informed decision making. I also consult on Mega Projects to assure successful delivery under complexity using advanced analytics to meet and exceed business and/or project aspirations.
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About BarnOwl:

BarnOwl is a fully integrated governance, risk management, compliance and audit software solution used by over 200 organisations in Africa, Australasia, Europe and the UK. BarnOwl is a locally developed software solution and is the preferred risk management solution for the South African public sector supporting the National Treasury risk framework.
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