The light of risk management has dimmed

Kruf, J.P. (2009) Sunset. Tholen, The Netherlands.

By Jack Kruf*

The world of risk management is a special world. There are many methods and techniques, software programs, standards, surveys and especially experts. It is a true cloud that hangs above us, of concepts, of supposed uncertainties, unknowns, forces we do not seem to know, of black swans, sometimes also white swans, of dangers that seem to circle like vultures.

Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around in a world of talismans, doomsayers, future forecasters, fortune tellers, charmers, demagogues, priests, druids and preachers talking about a possible future. The demagoguery of uncertainty is the card that is played. It’s business. Big business. Yes. For sure. In fact, the big money in this world is here. At least until now. Is the map of ‘uncertainty’ in this construct the right one? With COVID-19 everything is going to change and we naturally roll in the direction of the existing knowledge we have, from top (crisis) management with calibrated insights and methods, of thinking in systems and chains, of balance, of the importance of diversity, of resilience in its broad embrace. However, we will have to look to find, discover, curate and secure this in our administrative systems. From risk management to knowledge management.

Could it be so that risk management is not all about dealing with uncertainties, but that is is about the actual understanding of the world around us, the place of man in the ecosystem, knowledge of trends and developments, of the willingness to share certainties, abilities for achieving values, desires for creation, balance and coherence, result and success. Fueled by the power and knowledge of man, his creative ability rather than the uncertain outside world that is so leading in risk management. If risk management is about accepting and acting out of collateral, then we are now on the wrong path with this science. Perhaps the concept should simply be put in the trash or in policy language “we will have to carefully examine, evaluate, provide recommendations and, where possible, reassess the advantages and disadvantages of this system.” From those who have died already and new victims, the first formulation will be felt as closer.

Risk management has failed

With a crisis like today, we can conclude that risk management has failed, as a profession, as a business, as a science. It has now proven to have no added value. Maybe briefly put, but still my thought. We have to go back to the drawing board. Really. We, as the PRIMO association, will also have to write to ISO for redefine the existing ISO 31000 definition, which is highly theoretical. For the public domain (the management of city and society) is has a far too narrow scope, thus being unusable for the world of public administration, politics, power and influence and is completely incomprehensible to ordinary people. I read the definition over a 1000 times and still I do not understand exactly what it is saying.

Risk is also a segmented concept (risk of what?) and in the current discussions on the ISO High Level Structure, scientists are being globally and coordinated from Geneva, but do not agree on what the definition of the concept of risk should be. And in the mean time risks emerge on a large scale. Each ISO set of standards for each process and each field has its own definitions and interpretations of this concept. It’s like we’ve launched a famous card game, which has 100 variants with 100 guidelines and 100 different rules. If this happens, which is, then the flight altitude of all the experts is therefore far and far too low. It is a hidden appeal for an upcoming initiative.

It where the certainties

With the COVID-19 crisis, it where not the uncertainties, but rather the certainties – we knew of the dangers of Corona described in numerous reports and scientific publications – that we have seen in the Palantír (‘viewing stone’) of risk management. I fortunately have a new model of the Palantír at home, a collectors item, a special edition, so much is now clear. Version 2.11 to be precise, and one based on thousands of years of wisdom. The model uses what we have learned in future scenarios. On the back is in lowercase lettering Based on Historic & Human Intelligence.

Yes, it is my belief that it where really the certainties that have been ignored or denied, and not the so-called uncertainties that led to this crisis. If the curtain goes up, the discussion will start, including about the role of public leaders. How could they have left existing, famous reports not play a crucial role in their decision process? Could they have known the dangers? (The answer is yes). Should they have sensed it much earlier?

The light has dimmed

The magic of the Palantír 1.0, that of the classic risk management is gone. The old school of risk management has been stripped of its strength and ability in one sweep of the current crisis. A failure of the first order. The light in the Palantír has been extinguished, dimmed. Welcome to the new world! The land of bold dealings with certainties, the renaissance land of the true connection between human knowledge and accurately acting. The country in which directors, managers, scientists and especially politicians will have to put aside their own interests so that we can finally put the wisdom of Machiavelli behind us (‘politics is purely about power and influence, nothing else’).


It will not be easy to deal with existing certainties. It will disrupt the current order. Administratively and scientifically. With Corona, it’s time to get back on our feet and risk management will be completely on the move. Perhaps even considering, the word ‘risk’ but completely deleted. And migrate to public value management and ensuring good control of it. Stewardship is maybe better. If we succeed in connecting public leaders to this new challenge, then an important step has been taken. After all, public leaders are part of the system, they are not its directors (although many think so). Those are the citizens. This tilt is the prerequisite for a successful redesign of public management and, who knows, of a new form or form of risk management.

*Article written on personal title, earlier published for PRIMO Europe on the 22nd of May 2020.