The old librarian was pissed at me. I was young, in my early twenties, and made a sarcastic comment on the newly minted Risk Management department at our workplace.
I said that risk management was practically an oxymoron. Risk can only be managed up to a point; beyond which it was impossible.
She lashed out at me for my impertinent remark. The librarian yelled at me for making fun of the highly educated Risk Manager. The intensity of her anger was a shock.
The Risk Management department came into being in the late 1970’s. I’m sure someone else performed the insurance analysis, procurement, and risk assessment before that, but now an entire department became dedicated to it.
So much for the Christmas parties. Before Risk Management, each department head had a liquor cabinet to open up when they entertained other management. Management also invited the staff in during the holidays for a drink.
Christmas parties were stocked with alcohol and people mingled between floors to have a drink and an appetizer. Too much drinking and driving went on back then. Too much drinking and working went on too (or something that resembled work).
I can’t remember how many times I had to help a coworker find a lost car, only to later find out they moved it during lunch and forgot where they parked it.
After Risk Management, the free-range parties and open liquor bottles ceased. Too much liability.
I’m now as old as the librarian that attacked me, yet my opinion has not changed.
I don’t support an unrealistic belief in science that lulls people into a false feeling of safety. Does science provide all the answers to the world’s problems? If the answers aren’t evident, will more research or better rules or laws do the trick?
I concede that some risk can be managed. Crossing the street at a light and looking both ways can reduce the risk of getting smacked by a car (although I have been hyper-vigilant and drivers still nearly hit me as I walk across the street).
And the Risk Manager was right about the fact that on-the-job drinking doesn’t mix with the on-the-job working and the just-off-the-job driving home. On this point, I’ll raise my glass to the Risk Manager that I had once disparaged.
But risk is a future event with no objective existence. Managing risk includes failures and limits to see this future. At some point science must fall back on the imagination, assumptions, or pre-established beliefs in order to do its job; all highly unscientific methods.
Risk is inherent in life and cannot be escaped by finding just the right formula.
Now that I’m old, maybe I should just yell at that young person over there working on that lifelike avatar that will make him immortal. Or wait, maybe I just found the ultimate risk manager?