Riblet#17: Risk gets Personal (2nd of 2)

Risk management is about achieving the objectives of the organisation; in short, being successful.  The tools of risk management can be used to help individuals achieve their own objectives as well.

One way of doing this is to imagine that you have failed to achieve your goal, and then to run through the scenarios that describe how that may have come about. This is called a “pre-mortem”- a post-mortem is too late if you want to achieve your goal – and it should bring to light your biggest weaknesses in relation to achieving your goal.  Then you address those weaknesses in a consistent and deliberate manner.  For an organisation, a pre-mortem (also termed a reverse stress test) is designed to identify potential flaws in its business model and to avoid what regulators call “disaster myopia’ – not seeing catastrophe looming towards it, a condition suffered by so many financial institutions in 2008-12.

In the 1970s, Bob Mankoff was a guy who loved drawing and who also thought he was funny.  He decided he wanted to be a cartoonist, and not only that, he wanted to be a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine. In his case, he did not need to imagine failure as he received 2,000 rejection slips from the New Yorker between 1974 and 1977.  But he did need to understand what was causing failure.  Simply “try, try, and try again” was not working for him.  He needed to understand the weakness in his cartoons, the fundamental flaw preventing him from achieving his goal.

Mankoff went to the New York Public Library and went through every cartoon that had been printed in the New Yorker over the previous 50 years.  From that he tried to analyse where he was going wrong.  He eventually concluded that each cartoonist had their own specific style, and so he needed to develop a personal style. He also finally concluded that the only thing linking all of the New Yorker cartoons was that they made the reader think.  

Bob Mankoff developed a style based on that of the impressionist painter Seurat (pictures made up of dots), and tried to produce cartoons that might make the reader think.  Gradually, the New Yorker started accepting a few of his cartoons and then in 1981 they contracted him as cartoonist.  He had achieved his goal.


Data Source: “Grit – The Power of Passion and Perseverance” – Angela Duckworth.

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