The Unknown Unknowns – Ignorance is not an argument

What you don’t know won’t hurt you – in a way, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe speaks from the heart in many situations in life. Sometimes we don’t even want to think about what we might NOT know.

But can we allow ourselves this attitude in a business context? Can we calmly shut down the computers in the evening without having any idea what incident might happen at night?

Spinoza says “What we call chance is the refuge of ignorance”. It is precisely these Unknown Unknowns that should worry us. For they form the blind spot in our carefully cultivated risk matrices. 

I do not want to question proactive risk management here. On the contrary: the more we work on our risk map in detail, the smaller the blind spot will be. Nevertheless, it will remain. 

If we have to accept that there will always be areas that put us and our businesses at risk, what can we do?

In addition to all pro-active measures, a functioning crisis management is indispensable! 

One of the most important components of this is a reliable early warning system. Ideally, systems and procedures are established that allow for quick assessments and analyses of what is happening. The quicker I recognise that a situation could become a real crisis for me, the quicker I can take countermeasures. These procedures vary from company to company and from industry to industry… but the basic building blocks are always the same and should therefore consist of the following components:

1) Processes to monitor the business environment. This includes not only the actual operational risks, but also constant monitoring of all communication channels, especially social media channels.

2) Securing monitoring processes and operational response capabilities 24/7. Crises rarely adhere to official working or opening hours.

3) Processes for classifying events in terms of:

  • Possible duration
  • Impact on business objectives
  • Financial impact
  • Impact on existing resources
  • Impact on existing infrastructure
  • Influence on the health and safety of employees and customers

4) Processes for decision-making incl. training of key decision-makers.

5) Adequate processes for alerting the relevant people in the company. Software solutions such as FACT24 can be used to guarantee simultaneous and secure information. Providers such as WhatsApp, which are popular for private use, are not recommended for communication in a real crisis due to security aspects.

6) Automated processes for opening a crisis room. This implies that it is fully set up and functional. Experience shows that it is the small things here that very often distract from the actual work. Now look directly to see if there is still paper in the printer!

Digital software solutions support companies in bringing processes
and checklists to life.

If these points are precisely defined in processes and are replayed again and again in crisis exercises, a routine is created. Similar to what pilots do over and over again in the flight simulator. Thinking capacities can thus be focused on the actual crisis situation because the routine work is done without effort. It is worthwhile to work with checklists as a common thread for all recurring tasks. This also creates additional resources that can be concentrated on the actual situation.

As soon as the “alarm mode” has been activated, it is basically a matter of protecting the previously defined most important products/services, processes and functions by all means. Here, those who have identified precisely these company-relevant areas in advance with good business continuity and active risk management are rewarded. And that is the good news. It doesn’t matter what kind of crisis hits the company, the relevant areas that need to be protected remain the same.

And so proactive and reactive measures go hand in hand for the best possible handling of all the Unknown Unknowns.

First and foremost, we must be aware that there will always be surprises. If we are prepared for this in the best possible way and have done our homework in all areas of what can be planned, then we will not be overrun.
It was also Spinoza who said “ignorance is not an argument”. He was right!

Our customers, the public and the media will see it the same way and will therefore not let it stand as an excuse for poor crisis management.

Do you have questions or need assistance in setting up a robust crisis management? aim4safety will be happy to support and advise you to bring you to a new level of safety. Contact us!