Racism and risk management

Author: Manu Steens

Corona has dominated the news for a long time, but now it’s back: racism. The situation in the USA with the death of George Floyd brings the old problem of racism back to life. In this case, the individual situation developed into a national problem to which even high-ranking officials, such as the president, do not seem to have a good response. Meanwhile, there were riots in the EU. France brought back memories of an earlier situation.

But also in the personal sphere of many immigrants, on an individual level, people are confronted with racism of several types such as physical and verbal harassment. The question that then arises is, how great is the risk.

When the subject is raised in the private sphere, it is easier for victims to talk about it in a limited circle of confidants. These testimonies can be very detailed. These conversations are necessary to know the situation well, to assess the risk. The question is then, first of all, how do you estimate such a risk? One possible way to get a feeling for the possible risk is to estimate the possible impact when it is realised. A measure for such a systemic risk is, briefly, the “gap” between the needs and the possible answers provided by the system. In this case, the needs of the migrants who experience racism here, and the solutions provided by society to these needs. If the gap is large, the potential impact in the event of an accident is very large. An easier example of a totally different type of risk is the electricity supply in the USA. The demand side has become very complex, with all kinds of (types of) customers, small and large, while the supply side delivers with a simple and outdated technical infrastructure. So if something happens to electricity in the USA that is serious, the impact will be huge. The solution to such asymmetric risks is to reduce or to eliminate the ‘gap’ between the demand side and the supply side. So we should be able to make the same reasoning for racism, we hope.

The fact that racism is a big problem has been clear in recent days. And apparently, in many places in the world, the layer of varnish of civilized behavior over a rough surface is wafer-thin, and dares to peel off.

But racism has been made illegal. That was one of the system’s solutions. Is that a solution to the verbal harassment that can mentally ruin a human being? Move to the actors in the situation: person x wants to bully person y. Person y appeals to the legislation and sues person x. Person x digs himself into the mental trenches, where he considers himself safer. The case goes to court, and causes further polarization of person x and y and their supporters. Result: the situation has only been good for the lawyers. As a migrant, can you approach it differently? Are “other measures” possible to say it in risk management terms.

Imagine: you are a migrant in a country, you work, you want to integrate, and you are confronted with situations like this. The problem turns out to be huge, as the world shows. So in order to find a good solution, the solution has to be something other than something that triggers further polarisation. But what exactly is the migrant’s possible situation? This is where the concept of “tribes” comes into play. People have a cortex that is hardwired for an “inner tribe” of about 150 people. These are people you know, who know you, for whom you stop to have a chat on the street.

When a migrant comes here, he/she leaves behind a “tribe” and is isolated here in the first instance. It is in human nature to form a “tribe”. That takes time, and therefore at the same time, a migrant is also more vulnerable than a “local”.

How is a “tribe” a solution? A “tribe” can be a solution for the psychological resistance of the migrant. So at the same time we know that it will only be a partial solution. He/she leaves behind a “tribe” and that is a serious price he/she pays. Especially when you know that part of the psychological well-being of the human being comes from being loved in just that “tribe”. So it is best for the migrant to create a new “tribe” in a selective way, by choosing people who also choose him/her. This is called reciprocity. A second psychological reinforcing factor is to use this technique of “tribes” in a conscious way. This can be done by seeing the bullies as from a “different tribe”. They don’t belong there themselves. Because tribes can be competitive when terrain is to be divided. This can be about the most fertile land, but also about more/less chances of passing exams, for example. After all, the results and chances of passing exams are statistically normally distributed and can be influenced.

There are some characteristics of this solution: it is a solution on an individual level and not on a political level. It takes time to implement, and it takes a dose of luck to meet the right people for the “tribe”, people of good will with an implicit outstretched hand. In the best case, this new tribe is multicultural. And it takes an iron will of the migrant not to isolate themselves nor to permanently withdraw in complaints.

Whether the “gap” can then be narrowed further with a political “push”, “pull” or any kind of measure, is not discussed here. Finding solutions, using both types of measures at the right time, is the work of governments all over the world. This requires the nudging of behavior on a large scale. This is on an individual level, and not on an individual level, and for more types of racist-risks.  The news shows that it’s time. The news also seems to indicate that it is possible, when a policeman kneels together with demonstrators, demonstrators protect a lost policeman and bring him back to his unit, soldiers dance the macarena together with demonstrators…. There is hope because there are people of very good will. But the risk is great.

Elk nadeel heb se voordeel

Every disadvantage has its advantage

Author: Manu Steens

With this statement we associate a well-known Dutch footballer: Johan Cruijff. Another version of this statement says “Never waste a good crisis”.

This statement is rigorously universal: every crisis offers opportunities. An opportunity may lie behind every risk. Is that right? We are now in the midst of a terrible crisis. In Belgium alone, there are around 9,000 corona-related deaths. How on earth can you say that there are benefits to this crisis, you will say. That is so: people who have had a corona death in their family, have lost someone dear, victims of domestic violence, GAS-fines due to lock-down-fatigued behavior… are confronted with the dark side of the disease.

But every medal has two sides. What about the positives? Are they really there?

A first advantage of this crisis is that many people work at home in large numbers for now. The “bosses” of their organization are actually forced to trust their employees, something many may only feel when the work result is presented. Others have confidence from the start, and adapted all their HR policies to allow for more teleworking in non-pandemic times. This has the advantage that in the long run people will go “to work” differently, especially less than. Less desk space will be required, provided there is some organizational talent to arrange for it. That saves money. There will be less driving in cars. This even saves in several areas: less fuel, less mileage, less maintenance, and other car-related expenses. But also less exhaust gases: the air in the cities is purer. There also is less noise from the cars,…

Due to the introduction of the lock-down, the closing of the nightlife, the number of weekend casualties fell significantly. People now get to know each other better as well.

These interventions have been going on for several months now, and people feel the needs come to the surface for which they need each other more. For which they have to apply a new way of solving problems. So new solutions arise. The first shops opened, and there was a brief fear that the garden centers would be taken by surprise. Nothing could be further from the truth. People were very disciplined. There was no question of a surprise. After that, the smaller shops opened again. Again there was no question of a surprise. That seems to indicate that many people are embarking on a new culture, one that has spontaneously occurred through the habit of “staying in your home” for two months now.

Such a cultural change can therefore be seen as an opportunity, where companies can save a lot on several aspects of employment. Hopefully, the number of traffic jams can also be permanently reduced. This also reduces the general emission of fine dust from cars. The number of accidents is decreasing. People can be less hunted at work that they can handle more at home, which saves them private time. After all, they have to travel considerably less to and from work. “With a little help of their friends”. And for suspicious executives, it can be a good experience to see that the work has continued and that his employees have continued to work. E.g. thanks to on-line meetings through an ever-improving technology called the internet. And that in the future they will do even better at home if the children can also go to school. A culture change in the organization where employees have more sliding hours can be beneficial for some professions.

In this way every disadvantage also has its advantage. Although it remains human to only want the benefits.

Corona – Phases Blue – Yellow – Orange, how should we be consistent?

Author: Manu Steens

In phase blue, there was a lot of talk about individual hygiene measures. (This is about washing hands and at the same time singing “happy birthday” twice, not giving hands but an elbow strike or a Vulcan greeting, coughing in your elbow, …) Since phase orange, the term ‘social distancing’ has been expressly formulated. This clearly marked the transition from personal measures (individual hygiene) to collective responsibility (keeping a distance). This distance can be done in several ways, such as telework, a shift of the working hours, or skipping a chair at meetings (and therefore only use half the capacity of your meeting room).

The idea behind this is always that of the Gauss curve. If there is a high spike in infections, health care capacity problems will arise. After all, there are often too many sick people with regard to the number of hospital beds, with regard to the available equipment and with regard to the number of care providers, the hands that keep you alive on that hospital bed. However, there are measures to deal with such peaks: the personal and collective measures mentioned above and much more. However, you only know when the peak has been reached, when it has passed (and the number of infections has fallen). So the idea is to flatten the peak to prevent hospitals from getting into trouble. That is currently the aim of any measure. Each measure helps when applied.

How serious is the disease actually? A large percentage of infected people are simply sick at home. They lie in bed with a cup of tea, read a book and watch Netflix. However, a smaller percentage of fragile people need to be helped in the hospital. Most critics had some medical problems before they were infected with the coronavirus. (For comparison: flu causes about 500-1000 deaths per year in Belgium.) What are the measures of social distancing now doing?

Seven known basic factors that have an impact on the spread of the virus are:

  1. Where many people gather, the virus can easily spread. So: avoid places with a lot of people.
  2. Intensity of contact: an intense hug is more contagious than Vulcan salute, especially if you keep a distance of 2 meters.
  3. Duration of the contact: are you going to put a card with friends for a few hours, or party all night with a lot of friends? That is worse than borrowing an egg from the neighbors.
  4. The place where you are: poorly ventilated areas stack the virus more easily than a well-ventilated flat.
  5. The age mix of people: a school full of young people is not as bad as the grandchildren visiting the retirement home, especially when it gets busy.
  6. Support for measures: the government must be able to explain it. After all, interference without insight leads to pronunciation without prospect.
  7. The “delayability” of an activity: can you postpone it until after the epidemic / pandemic? Then you can no longer get infected.

Following these seven principles throughout the phases takes us very far. If we are extremely consistent in this, at least, and everyone thinks along with us about how things can be improved.

The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

The idea behind “The Tipping Point” is that you should look at upward trends as an epidemic. Regardless of whether it is a kind of shoes, an illness, or children smoking, curbing crime or problem drug use and curbing it, or a wave of teen suicides in an environment where suicide in that age group did not originally occur, or awareness for safe behavior at work. The central idea is that ideas, products, messages and behavior spread like diseases do: exponentially or not.

Chapter one deals with the three rules of epidemics.

After all, there is more than one way to start an epidemic. It is a function of people who transfer infectious agents, the “agent” in itself and the environment in which the “agent” operates. When an epidemic “starts”, if the situation is out of balance, a social epidemic happens because something happened in at least one of those three areas. These three “agents” of change are called “The Law of the Few,” “The Stickiness Factor,” and “The Power of Context.”

These three rules give an idea to get an understanding of the “social epidemic” phenomenon. It also indicates how we can reach a “tipping point”. The key element here is often that “the devil is in the details”. And often everything works in one situation and not in another. As a result, even testing is sometimes not a luxury. Gut feeling sometimes has to make a step aside.

Chapter two is about “The Law of the Few”.

Three types of personalities are discussed therein: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. These people are essential for so-called social epidemics but are often overlooked for recognizing their importance in our lives.

Connectors are usually the (connecting) central party in a social network, as at the top of a pyramid. You often find them in your network by thinking about people you know by constantly repeating the question: “… whom I know through …”. They often introduce you to their network, we use such people more often than we think.

But Connectors are not the only kind of people who are important / useful when starting a social epidemic. Connectors are “specialists in people.” We trust them to bring us (spontaneously) in contact with other people. In addition, there are people we rely on to bring us into contact with new information. Someone who provides this is a “Maven”. That word comes from Yiddish and means “someone who gathers / accumulates knowledge.” They use their knowledge to keep the market advertising fair, for example. A seller who displays “price reduction” but does not implement it is caught by them. After all, most of us hardly pay attention to the price. But they can be the fear of an unfair shopkeeper in that area. But they do not only exist in terms of market prices. They might as well notice errors in a professional trade magazine of their interest. Or correct a specialist in his own domain.

But they are not passive collectors of information. Once they have solved their case, they also want to tell about it. They want to use it to help others. They take you to make purchases in the best places, for example, or they make purchases for you. They usually solve other people’s problems by solving their own problem. But the opposite is also true: a Maven solves his own (emotional) problems by solving those of another.

What is the difference between a maven and a connector? A connector tells 10 friends about a good restaurant and 5 try it. A maven advises 5 people about the same restaurant and 5 try it. A maven lays much more empathy in his story, so that his advice is relatively more followed. They both have a different strategy, different motives, but both, each in its own way, can trigger a social epidemic.

But there is a third social select group of people: the salesmen. They understand the art of convincing those people who were not yet convinced of the message. They are just as important in tipping a social epidemic as the maven and the connector. Who are they and what makes them so good at what they do?

They love their customers. In conversations they sometimes ask rhetorical questions. They like to help people. They have energy and are enthusiastic. They have charm and likeability. They are happy and optimistic.

Chapter three is about “The Stickyness Factor.”

In the late 1960s, a TV producer, Joan Gantz Cooney, came up with the idea of ​​sesame street. This became a social epidemic in which the alphabet was taught to children. The goal was to spread literacy as a virus in children from disadvantaged families. For 30 minutes and 5 times a week.

The “law of the few” says that the nature of the messenger is a critical factor to “tip” a social epidemic. But the idea / product / message must also be good enough. Is it “memorable”? such that it can bring about a change? Being successful also depends on the stickiness factor. That sounds like it’s straightforward. If we want our words to impress, we often speak emphatically. We also speak louder than. We repeat our claims. Repeating 6x before one remembers it is the maxim of marketing. Coca Cola has hundreds of millions of dollars for that. Sesame Street does not have that. Are there other more subtle ways to make something stick?

The difficult thing is not reaching the customer. The hard thing is to make him stop at the message, read it, remember it and then act upon it. To see what works best, direct marketers do extensive testing. They sometimes work with a dozen variations on the same theme. Conventional marketers have predetermined fixed ideas of what makes their advertising work: humor, splashy graphics, celebrities who recommend the product. Direct marketers do not have these securities. They are the real students of stickiness. The most intriguing conclusions about how to reach the customer come from them.

There is something deeply counter-intuitive with the definition of stickiness that emerges from the book’s examples. We all want to believe that the key to making an impact lies in the inherent quality of the ideas presented. None of the examples in the book changed the content of what they said. They tipped the message each time by tinkering with its presentation. To the presentation of their ideas. A pause after a question a second longer than normal, a muppet behind the word to be read, a large speaking “big bird” next to a person in the street, a small “gold box” in the corner of an advertisement …

The lesson of stickiness is that there is a simple way to package information that can make it irresistible under the right circumstances. All you have to do is find it.

Chapter four is about “The Power of Context (Part One)”

The great example in this chapter is the rise and fall of crime in New York.

Viewing crime as an epidemic comparable to the success of sesame street is somewhat peculiar. Some epidemics need no more than a product and a message. Crime, however, is not about a situation, but an almost infinitely varied and difficult set of behaviors. Malicious behavior is contagious, as the New York case showed.

Epidemics are sensitive to conditions and circumstances of the time and place in which they happen. For example, there is more crime in dirty metros than in clean and tidy subways, both the vehicles and the subways. Crime happens more at night, protected by the dark, than during the day. This is relatively straightforward. The lesson of “the power of context” is that we are more than just sensitive to changes in the context. We are extremely sensitive to it. And the nature of the contextual changes that an epidemic can bring is very different from what we normally expect.

  • Grafitti cleaning up of metro sets and in metro stations. Potential victims are intimidated by it and criminals think they are less likely to be identified and caught.
  • Keep garbage off the streets
  • Replace broken windows (also: broken windows theory: crime is the result of disorder): a broken window leads to anarchy: crime is contagious.

The “broken windows theory” and “the power of context” are the same theory. It states that a criminal does not have fundamentally intrinsic reasons and does not live in his own world. It is someone who is acutely sensitive to his environment, who is alert to all sorts of incentives, and who is persuaded to commit crimes based on his perception of the world.

A great success too: by checking for ‘petty crimes’ such as not paying the metro (‘fare beaters’) and responding to this with police intervention, fines and loss of time in police stations, other crimes with large percentages also went down, such as murder, etc. So there is indeed sensitivity in a complex system. Behavior is therefore a function of social context. Instead of solving big things such as tackling social injustice, structural economic inequality, unemployment, racism, social neglect…, to stop crime this theory says rather that what really matters are the small things.

People can show affection and transfer emotion. This suggests that what we think are internal states, preferences and emotions, is actually powerful and imperceptibly influenced by seemingly insignificant personal influences (“law of the few”). The same applies to our preferences, emotions and behavior from an environment instead of from a person.

Chapter five: “The Power of Context (Part Two)”: the magic number 150.

This is about the role that groups play in social epidemics.

E.g. the size of the group of people in a movie theater also determines how well the film scores in polls. Group decisions and evaluations also produce different results than individual ones. This is partly due to peer pressure and social norms and a number of other types of influences (see previous chapters) (and size of the group) that can play a role in tipping a social epidemic. For example, a connector can be a person with many ties with groups instead of individuals. Such a person realizes that if you want to make fundamental changes in behavior and thoughts, such a change of exemplary behavior needs a community around them (the exemplary ones), where their behavior and thoughts can thrive.

A lesson from “The Ya-Ya Sisterhood” (a book) and from (religious) connectors (e.g. John Wesley) is that small, close-knit groups have the power to increase an epidemic potential of a message, product or idea. A question is “what is a group”? And what are the most effective types of groups to start an epidemic? Is there a rule of thumb? “The rule of 150” provides an answer to this. It is a fascinating example of the peculiar and unexpected ways in which the context helps determine the course of social epidemics.

In small groups people are more closely involved with each other. This is important for the success of community life. Both for the individual and for the group. If your group becomes too large, you do not do enough together. Then you have too little in common and you grow apart. And then the group becomes less close and falls apart. Multiple clans then form within the group.

In a company, if the group becomes too large, it can happen that sales do not know the R&D, nor production, etc. It then becomes more difficult to (quickly) answer the customer’s question. There is no benefit of unity: the people in a complex company have no common relationship and no common knowledge / memory. In psychology, this is called a “transactive memory.” Much of what we know and remember is stored outside our brains. E.g. birthdays in a birthday calendar.

Due to the right group size, peer pressure is also optimal, which increases the liability of one’s own duties and increases the efficiency of the performances.

Chapter six: Case Study, “Rumors, sneakers, and the power of translation”.

With high-tech products, there are often two groups side by side in the word-of-mouth continuum, which communicate little with each other: the Innovators and the Early Adopters. They are visionary and want revolutionary change. They buy new technology before it is completely perfect. They have small businesses, they are just starting and they are willing to take huge risks. They are followed by the Early Majority, which are often large companies. The goal of visionaries is to make a “quantum leap forward”, which is from pragmatic to make a percentage improvement.

A lot of high-tech fails if the Early Adopters find no way to transform it into an idea for the Early Majority, to give it a better ‘Gestalt’, a better, simpler, more significant configuration. That is “translation.” What mavens, salesmen and connectors do with an idea to make it contagious is to change it so that strange details fall away and others become exaggerated so that the message acquires a deeper meaning. Translating the idea of ​​innovators into something that others can understand.

Chapter seven: Case Study, “Suicide, smoking, and the search for the unsticky cigarette”.

Suicide, it turns out, is contagious. It is not rational or even necessarily conscious. It doesn’t seem like a convincing argument that someone did it for you. It is more subtle than that. More like pedestrians crossing a red light. Someone took the lead. Like a kind of imitation. You get permission from the person who gave the example. It may be conscious or not. Suicide of a celebrity has the same effect. In the case of lots of publication through the media, this gives permission to do the same. That can cause suicide epidemics.

Mutatis mutandis: rebellious nature of youth, impulsiveness, risky behavior, indifference to others and precociousness: the cigarette-problem. This seems simple, but it is complex and essential why the war against smoking fails among young people: they want to get rid of a wrong image: they want to believe that smoking is not cool. Wrong ! Smokers are cool and are imitated, so anti-smoking campaigns fail because they are beside the question.

There is also a difference between “contagiousness” and “stickiness”. Contagiousness is a function of the person as a messenger. Stickiness is first and foremost a characteristic of the message, the product, itself.

A first way to fight smoking is to prevent the example functions: the “cool kids” who no longer smoke. A second possibility is that the followers no longer look at the examples, the cool kids, but that they redefine what is cool and look for their examples in adults who do not smoke. But parents often do not have such an influence on their children. So the second option is a lot harder.

Is it bad that teens are experimenting with cigarettes? Because the cool kids do it etc. but as long as they have limited smoking with nicotine levels below the addiction threshold, the use is not sticky. Smoking is then more like a fall than the flu: “easily caught but easily defeated.” Instead of fighting experimentation, we must ensure that there are no major consequences.

Chapter eight: Conclusion “Focus, Test and Believe”.

A first lesson from the Tipping Point is that starting a social epidemic requires that you concentrate the resources on a few key areas. If you want a word-of-mouth epidemic, you have to focus on mavens, connectors and salesmen.

Second lesson: The world does not match our intuition. People who succeed in setting up a social epidemic don’t just do what they believe is the right thing. They voluntarily test the accuracy of their intuitions. To prevent errors on a large scale.

Communication between people has its own set of very unusual and counter-intuitive rules.

Third: The basis must be a firm belief that change is possible. That people can radically change their behavior and beliefs under the influence of the right approach. Because nobody is only inner-directed. Peers are very important.

However, by working on the size of the group, we can get new ideas into effect. Even by tinkering with the presentation of information, it can become more sticky. By finding the right people with social power, we can shape the course of a social epidemic.

Often only a small push is needed to start an epidemic.

risk management, strictly speaking – success factors of support

Author: Manu Steens

An organizational structure , a decree or law, (a) (some) measure (s), … must be supported to succeed. To be supported, they must be recognized. (I have no criterion to say in which cases this model is all relevant, for that a study should be done of successful and failed business in hindsight.)

Recognition in itself, however, is based on four success factors:

  • legitimacy,
  • cohesion of the target group due to proximity with civilians / the employees of the organisation,
  • effectiveness with purpose and perseverance,
  • authority.

These four pillars are interdependent. If you remove one leg from the table, the other legs will come along and the table will fall. So you cannot actually view them as independent. For the sake of the further discussion, I do that here anyway.

One thing that seems to be clearly supported is the EU regulation of the GDPR. Something that does not seem to be supported is the Brexit . Let us therefore illustrate these two things with this idea.

Success factors of support applied to the GDPR.

  • Legitimacy: The GDPR legislation was imposed by the EU and applies to all EU countries for implementation
  • Cohesion of the target group through proximity : The EU countries are interdependent because they are related to the EU, but also because they have free movement of people, which implicates that they can enjoy similar legislation despite traveling in the EU. At the same time, the EU is for the most part a coherent whole, as a result of which the countries are coherent in terms of supporting the legislation. Proximity is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that EU citizens have recognized the legislation as something that concerns them very much. It belonged very quickly to the
  • Effectiveness: A true barnum advertising has been conducted for the GDPR, pointing out that this legislation applies to the citizen. This was so effective that the people of the EU and the organizations are aware of their rights. And in the very short term jobs have been created: eg. lawyers specializing in GDPR but also DPOs, courses, …
  • Authority: There is also a place in the legislation itself for punitive measures in case of non-application of the law by the organizations in the EU. Also, auditing capabilities were provided. Partly as a result of the possible effect of the hammer, many organizations applied the law, and there was a great sense of “doing something about it”.

Conclusion: due to the barnum advertising, this legislation was strongly founded on these four success factors, so that it could actually only succeed.

Success factors of support applied to the Brexit .

  • Legitimacy: It came about through an unclear referendum with a majority “behind the comma”. There is total division within and across the political parties and within the people. The British Prime Minister was therefore completely in a gap of uncertainty. None of the proposals from the EU or the British themselves was accepted by a clear majority.
  • Cohesion: The British are divided. The votes for and against are neatly divided and without clear coherence. Many people, together with their politics, attach great importance to their sovereignty. Others opt for the possibilities that a cohesive Europe together with the British could mean. The connection is lost. The division is down to the granular level of the population.
  • Effectiveness: Due to a great deal of uncertainty, all proposals about the Brexit in a reasonable manner were As a result, it is regularly postponed. As a result of that, it is unclear how, if and when the Brexit will be a fact.
  • Authority : The Brexit could turn out differently from day to day in a new referendum. There is also a difference of opinion between, for example, the Scots and the rest of the British. In addition, the British regularly state the historic words of Churchill that “GB is with the EU but not of the EU”.

Conclusion: The Brexit cannot be called a success .