Sunday, September 1, 2013


Futurist SME

You can find things of ERM interest in many different places.

I’m reading a novel* that involves organogenesis and some Wall Streeters who were buying life insurance policies at 15 cents-on-the-dollar from people with diabetes and other life-shortening diseases, people who due to the economy or cost of medical care were unable to continue paying policy premiums.

The ERM connection is that the Wall Streeters thought they had covered all the bases to assure their scheme would be highly profitable - the Wall Streeters would buy the policies, pay the policy premiums for what they expected to be a limited time, and then collect the policy's face value when the former policy owner died. They even hired a company to "run the numbers" based on actuarial statistics to assure the worthiness of their scheme.

Unfortunately, the Wall Streeters and their statistics vendor were putting their eggs into the proverbial basket based on history. They overlooked near-future possibilities such as the development of test-tube organs (organogenesis).

Moneyman: “You guys didn’t see this coming?”

Wall Streeters: “It’s a once-in-a-century breakthrough; you can’t do projections for being hit by an asteroid.”

No one - neither the statisticians nor the Wall Streeters - apparently were aware that growing replacement organs for human transplantation was as advanced as it is; in particular organogenesis of the panaceas, the critical organ for diabetes patients.

It's a good yarn, and for ERM practitioners it offers a lesson, perhaps several.

Most ERM practitioners look at statistics - call it "historical facts" if you will - to try to ascertain what threats are possible and probable for any given organization. What are traffic patterns? What do the neighbors do? What is the MTBF and MTTR for critical hardware; computers, mailers, PBX, etc.? What are the environmental risks: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornados, etc.?

We also are concerned with an endless series of "What ifs." What if a vendor fails? What if a primary client cancels a contract?

What we usually don't consider is where are science and technology going?

The product or service need not be sophisticated or high tech. Consider light bulbs. Who would have guessed that the government would mandate CFLs and effectively ban manufacture and sale of incandescent bulbs?

Shedding light on more bulbs, who predicted that automobile headlights would shrink from large sealed beams to tiny halogens?

For the Wall Streeters in the novel, the advanced stage of organogenesis was a "black swan," but it should not have been a swan of any color. While the Wall Streeters thought they had done "due diligence" by relying on historical information and by engaging a statistics firm to "run the numbers," they overlooked both the current stage of organ growth and the speed at which the process was advancing.

In the novel, there was information available on the status organogenesis. Perhaps not anything useful on the internet, but within medical literature there was sufficient to cause the Wall Streeters to reconsider their scheme before moving forward. Unfortunately for the Wall Streeters, no one thought to read the available litrature.

Why would they seek advice from the medical community? If you are betting a segment of the population (diabetics) will die at a relatively young age, it behooves you to know (a) what is killing these people and (b) what treatments are available to extend life.

Obviously, if the product was headlights, investigating medical issues would be of less importance. The type and depth of research will vary by product or service. (Any organizations ramping up to support CP/M systems? Not likely.)

ERM practitioners need to include futurists - or at least people with a curiosity of what's both possible and probable for all things that could interrupt "business as usual," including new developments by competitors - as well as Legal, HR, Finance, Production, Insurance, and too-many-other internal and external functions to list - to get a total view - yesterday, today, and tomorrow - of the threats facing an organization.

Futurists need to look not only at science and technology, the issue in the novel, but also politics (will the president order an attack and if so, when, how much, with what?), keeping in mind the organization's product (e.g., missiles, ships, MREs) and services (fleet maintenance, fuel, R&R).

Someone, and the ERM practitioner need not be that "someone" but the practitioner should press to assure there is a "someone," needs to look at threats that might be coming from all directions. Prioritizing the threats and implementing means to avoid or mitigate the threat normally remain management functions. However, failing to at least gaze into the crystal ball fails the due diligence test, just as the Wall Streeters failed to investigate issues that could impact their product.

I always stress the importance of keeping up with the news; reading physical and digital newspapers and magazines, particularly trade publications; I'll now add "books from the Local Lending Library" to the list.

A good yarn, with a good lesson for ERM practitioners as a bonus.


* Death Benefit, Dr. Robin Cook, ISBN-13: 978-1-4104-4494-3


If I wrote it, you may quote it.

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