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A water pipe in New Orleans illustrates two aspects of Human Risk.
Burst water mains are an all-too-common occurrence, so it might surprise you to learn that I'm featuring one in the newsletter.
In this case in New Orleans, a 111-year-old water pipe burst, causing large-scale flooding. Workers sent to repair the pipe, appear to have then inadvertently made the situation worse, by opening a valve too quickly, risking potential water supply contamination.
I'm featuring the story because it illustrates an essential aspect of Human Risk; even when people aren't the root cause of a problem, they can often make it worse by the way they respond to it. People can amplify problems that aren't of human-making as well as create new ones.
Also of interest was the response from the New Orleans Sewage & Water Board:
"The fact is that we may have opened the valve, filled that main a little bit too fast, caused a drop in pressure in the rest of the system...it was an unfortunate incident, but we wanted to own it, much like we want to continue being transparent and own anything that we do, the good and the bad, and this was somewhat of a blemish, unfortunately”.
On the one hand, this is a useful reminder that acknowledging that Human Risk will occur is a good approach to risk management and an effective way of providing psychological safety to employees.
On the other hand, note the caveated language used to describe the incident which detracts (just a little) from real ownership of the problem: "we may have" and "a little bit too fast".
A re-working of a classic album cover shows how easily our attention can diverted.
50 years ago The Beatles released their 11th album, Abbey Road. Named after the location of the EMI studios in which it was recorded, the cover featured this iconic image.
The focus of the picture is clearly on the four band members. What you might not have noticed is the fifth Beatle in the picture. No, not the mystery man on the right whose identity you can read about here, but rather theVW Beatle 😉 parked on the left!
You'll notice that the car is inappropriately (under present law, illegally) parked on the pavement. Sensing a marketing opportunity, Volkswagen recently released what they called a re-parked version of the cover which they sold in album cover size in aid of a charity.
The Human Risk lesson here is that once you've seen the new version, you're more likely to notice the car than the band when looking again at the original.
Readers planning on visiting the crossing should mitigate their own Human Risk by taking note of two things. Firstly the location: it is nowhere near Abbey Road station. As Transport for London helpfully explains to those who go there looking for it:
A book that explores biases in our existing data sets, is not only a fascinating read but highlights a critical driver of Human Risk.
To research Human Risk topics, I read a lot of books and one, in particular, has had a fundamental impact on how I look at the world. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez is an award-winning book that highlights quite how much of the data we use to make decisions, is biased.
For reasons Criado Perez explains in the book, this means that we're often designing environments in which 50 per cent of the population is both disadvantaged and at higher risk.
While it makes a very serious point, this is a readable, thought-provoking study that I thoroughly recommend.
Here are just a few of the biases that the book explores:
The dynamics described in Invisible Women are starkly illustrated by Melovaz, a recently launched Iranian music streaming site. While it does feature work by female artists in its library, the album artworks are subject to some astonishing censorship. More examples here.
Finally, I was also intrigued by Removed; photographs showing the poses we adopt when using mobile devices, but where the devices themselves have been...removed. Like this:
As well as the recently launched Human Risk podcast (new episode I'm very excited about, due shortly), do make sure you check out the Human Risk YouTube channel. To see what you'll get by subscribing, check out the latest additions below:
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