Friday, September 9, 2011


Value of tyros


As most readers of this blog are aware, I participate on a number of groups, forums, and lists.

Operative word is "participate."

For years I have encouraged newbies, tyros, to participate in exchanges on lists, forums, groups, et al.

The push back often was "I don't have anything to offer."

On the flip side of the "can't get the newbies to participate" coin are the novices - some with certifications ! - who ask questions easily answered with a little homework, researching the Internet for answers. These people, all too many of whom abound, tend to discourage real practitioners from polite responses.

Recently, however, there have been several thought-provoking questions raised by a tyro on LinkedIn's BCMIX - Business Continuity Management Information eXchange group.

The questioner is not all that new to risk management; she came to business continuity from DR, but she now finds herself in a real risk management role.

One of her questions

    Black Swans & BCP

    I’ve recently been given the opportunity to work with an EM/BC non-profit organization and I’m pretty excited about it.

    My first assignment was to write an article for their newsletter, which has now gone out, so I’m hoping to engage the community in a conversation and drive a bit of traffic to their Facebook site.

    If you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts on Black Swans & BCP, I’d appreciate it. Article below:

    In 2007, Nassim Nicholas Taleb published "The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable" and the term “Black Swan” entered the common parlance of the Business Continuity community. At the time, I assumed this was because:

    1. It was highly applicable to bcp
    2. The term was prominent in the minds of business leaders and something they could (painfully) relate to
    3. It spoke of loss and the need for resilience
    4. It’s pretty catchy

    However, having just read some of Taleb’s work, I have to ask “what does the Black Swan mean to business continuity?”

    Taleb describes a Black Swan event as having three characteristics; “it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

    Given these parameters, wouldn’t an alien invasion qualify as a Black Swan event?

    After all, aliens have been sneaking around stealing our socks, umbrellas and car keys for years. We should have known this would happen.

    OK, it’s a silly example but a good illustration of why I struggle with business continuity and the Black Swan. Where does the Black Swan leave us? Is it a get out of jail free card, a call to plan for the ‘impossible’ or something else altogether?

    Taleb tells us not to waste time trying to predict Black Swans but to build robustness against them. That sounds like business continuity and it is; vaguely. I say vaguely because Taleb is an economist discussing the world financial system. In his “Ten Principles for a Black Swan-robust Society”, Taleb offers advice such as “People who drove a school bus blindfolded (and crashed it) should never be given a new bus” and “don't let someone making an "incentive" bonus manage a nuclear plant - or your financial risk.” While indeed astute, I’m not really sure how to incorporate it into meaningful BCM output.

Obviously the questioner did her homework before putting her query to the group. As this is written, her question has generated more than 30 responses. What is better than 30 responses? Thirty responses that do not necessarily agree with one another, a situation guaranteed to cause practitioners to think about their positions.

Another question that got practitioner attention was

    Critical Worker Support Planning?

    Most of us have mission critical staff who must report to work shortly after a major incident and common sense suggests that they will only do so if they feel that their families are safe and secure. Since nonessential staff outnumber those required to support recovery, it makes sense (at least on paper) to try to leverage that pool and build some kind of critical employee support/assistance program. However, I don't see much written about this, so my questions are:

    1. Do you have plans to support critical workers?
    2. If so, what types of assistance are provided?

This query so far has generated six responses from senior or "very senior" practitioners.

Who certified this practitioner? To date she has avoided the certification wars (BCI vs. DRII vs. several new-on-the-scene).

The bottom line is that no matter if a person is a tyro or a well seasoned - I've always wondered with what seasoning - pro, everyone, without exception has something to offer, if only a thought-provoking question.

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