Category Archives: Risk Management

The first step to creativity in business or anything else: preparation!

What has preparation got to do with creativity?

Preparation is the first of the (click here) seven steps I have recently written about concerning creativity in business. Although you might not think it involves your creative side, preparation is an essential part of the process. If you are looking for a solution or planning a new initiative, you need to understand the question before rushing to an answer. You want to know what research other people have already done on the subject, if you don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

What preparation do I do as a writer?

I research the background. I want to be as authentic as possible. Of course, in fiction you can alter some of the facts to make the story work better, but do it intentionally. I recently took a trip to Cardiff to remind myself of some of the locations I am using in Accounting for Murder, Book II, Old Money. In particular, I visited Castell Coch, where I have set much of the action. I am glad I did so. I will change a few things to make it more realistic but overall I am more certain than ever that I have chosen the right location for the story.

When do I do more preparation?

For historical novels, which I write under a pseudonym, I always need to do more research, so as to be true to the period and to incorporate as many historical facts as I can. They give a framework for the fiction.

Preparation for me includes reading other fiction and other kinds of reading. Studying modern grammar comes into it too. I am amazed how much has changed since I was at school, especially capitalisation.

The things I have learnt about writing, including preparation, are helpful in my business too.
What if you have begun working on an idea without preparation?
Risk Dice
What if you have omitted preparation?

Do not despair. Preparation obviously ought to come before anything else, but your situation, although not ideal, is not necessarily beyond repair. Go back and do it now. Be ready to rethink some of your ideas. It’s only too late once you have gone live. Doing things in the right order usually saves time in the long run, but we live in the real world. Even fiction writers!

Coming soon: the lightbulb moment, aka Inspiration!


How do you use statistics? For illumination or support? Don’t copy Mr Trump!

Who has been misusing statistics now?

I have recently criticised the Foreign Secretary for misusing statistics in relation to Brexit and the NHS.

Now Donald Trump has commented on statistics which  show an increase of around 13% in reported crimes in the UK . He says that this shows an increase in Islamic terrorism around the World. I find this statement quite worrying for several reasons.

  • Politicians do not  usually comment on internal matters in other countries.
  • The figures quoted refer to all crimes, of which terrorism makes up only very small part.
  • For some categories of crime, the police think the increase in reporting is because the public has more confidence that they will act. These include hate crime, sex offences and domestic violence.
  • The UK security services have expressed concern at the increased risk of terrorism, but they are basing this on information they have. It has nothing to do with the crime rate.

The last point would actually support PresidentTrump’s comment, if it had come from the US security services!

JHM Data Protection
You need to see what lies behind the data.
Statistics could help make the USA safer.

A real study of the relevant data shows that Americans are far more likely to die in a robbery, a neighbour dispute or a random shooting than in a terrorist incident. This suggests that gun control would  make the USA safer. It would almost certainly be more effective than immigration controls or most anti-terrorism security measures. I would not, however, suggest anyone should be complacent about terrorism. Anywhere.

I have previously quoted Andrew Lang (1844-1912) writing:

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

Mr Lang was obviously ahead of his time.

Want to know more about statistics?

To learn more about the use of statistical data, try my book: How to avoid being misled by statistics.  You could find it a help in your business and in your life.

How to avoid being misled by statistics
Book cover: How to avoid being misled by statistics

Do you know which of the 7 phases of the creative process you are in?

Is being creative necessary in your business?

Many people thing creativity is relevant only to certain types of business. I wrote about this some time ago,  see How is creativity related to your business? when I explained that you need creativity when you are developing new products, new systems or anything new. In fact, whenever you are working on rather than in your business. I also said we all have a creative side, which we need to develop to succeed in business.

You need to be intentionally creative

It is easy to think creativity just happens. Ideas fall from the sky. If not…they don’t. Perhaps you are creative sometimes. I used to think like that. Now I have learned that you can manage this aspect of your life, just like any other. You can keep on producing new ideas, new products etc like our most successful business leaders. This means understanding the creative process, and especially to understand the different phases of that process.

A mediaeval monk being creative as he produces a manuscript.
A mediaeval monk being creative as he produces a manuscript.
Why are the phases so important?

You can blame yourself for apparent failure simply because you were not on the phase you thought you were on. They require different approaches. Perhaps even different physical environments. It is also important to go through them in the right order. You can go back as often as you need, but never try to jump ahead missing a phase out.

So what are the phases of the creative process?
  1. Preparation – research, getting facts, studying previous work
  2. Incubation – letting the ideas develop in your subconscious
  3. Inspiration – the lightbulb moment
  4. Evaluation – prioritising
  5. Elaboration – working out the details
  6. Review – costs, benefits, risks, opportunities
  7. Implementation

I will be writing again about each of these phases. For now, just acknowledge that they exist and make a decision to work your way through each of them in turn for every creative project you are planning. Each one can be at a different phase. In fact, it is better if they are.


350 million a week for the NHS when we leave the EU – are you joking, Boris?

Did you believe Leave?

Do you ever wonder how many people voted Leave because of this incredible claim which Boris has just resurrected? I use the word incredible in its correct sense! Better statisticians than I have taken the foreign secretary to task over this, but as I have written a book on How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics, I felt a need to add my two penn’orth. Not 350 million worth, of course.

How much?

Let’s look at the amount. Yes, we do usually pay something like 350M to the EU every week, although the amount varies some years, being based on a formula.  So Boris is right? No! There’s a 100M rebate we get back every week. Don’t ask why they don’t just net it off. They don’t go for simplicity.

That leaves 250M a week for the NHS. Right?

Wrong. All the money we, and every other member state, pay to the EU, doesn’t just disappear! Apart from the cost of running its institutions, like the Commission and the Parliament, the EU spends most of it on agricultural subsidies and various projects, mainly from the Regional Development Fund. A certain amount of the agricultural subsidies comes to British farmers. As to the projects, it depends which projects get approved at any time. Overall, the UK benefits by over 100M a week. When we leave the EU it will be for the British Government to decide whether to continue subsidising agriculture and supporting development projects. If so, by how much? It could be more or less than the present.

Does that mean we will be 150M a week better off when we leave?

Probably. BUT. There’s a lot of negotiating to be done. We may have to pay something in future to gain access to the Single Market or to remain in some EU institutions. I expect each of us will have a different view as to what is a good or a bad bargain. But we might have 150M a week for the NHS? Maybe. If all other things are equal. Will they be? That will depend on two things. The state of our government’s finances and their political choices.

Government finances.

You cannot separate the money we pay to the EU from everything else. If the economy booms, there could be more tax revenue to the exchequer. On the other hand…! And that will depend on the state of the World economy and on the impact of Brexit. The total available to spend could be more or less  than 150M a week. There are risks, as they say.

Risk Dice - Leave has positive and negative risks
Dice – Leave has positive and negative risks
Political choices.

It will be for the government at the time to decide priorities. Perhaps the NHS will come top. What about infrastructure, education, defence etc? Then there’s the deficit. Remember that? Some think the first call on any extra money should be to clear that as fast as possible. Some of the Leavers are among the strongest believers in fiscal responsibility. They want to clear the deficit.

What does this say of Boris?

I would not go so far as to call him a liar. I would just say that his assertion of 350M a week for the NHS is misleading. Another example of how to be misled by statistics. Perhaps he should read my book.



What are you going to review this autumn?

Summer is more or less over. This is the time of year many businessmen and women review their activities. Some are thinking of an autumn sales drive, others of a new product coming out in January. There are even those who are thinking about Christmas (sorry to mention that!). I hope you have got plans. How far ahead are you planning?

Review your business this autumn?

Is it time to review something that you weren’t planning on changing, just to make sure that what has worked OK so far is still fit for purpose?

Whatever you are going to review, remember to look at the risks and opportunities. Then look at the controls. Otherwise you could be about to score an own goal. Your dreams could become nightmares. If you’re not sure how to go about that kind of review, you could do worse than read my book Load the Dice


Load the dice - risk management for small businesses

Of course, you could have a chat with me, if you’ve no time to read. An initial consultation is always free.

You do want to make sure it’s only the leaves that will fall this autumn, don’t you?

Is compliance a good thing or merely a necessity?

In many of the arguments about the Grenfell fire,

the question of compliance with Building Regulations comes up. It has a sense of deja vu for me. I have so often been in discussions where the question of compliance, with one thing or another, has come up. Now, of course, I am not going to advise anyone to fail to comply with legal requirements. However, I am concerned that people often think thy are doing enough if they comply.

Some regulations may be overprescriptive, but a many are not. Many set out the minimum standard. All too often, people choose to ignore guidelines or advice on best practice, if these have no statutory authority.

Behind the bar.

I can remember a time when a lot of fatalities in motor accidents were the result of a car running into the back of a lorry. That is because lorries are higher than cars and the rear bumper, or some part of the lorry, went through the car’s windscreen, killing the driver and any front-seat passenger.  A simple remedy was suggested. Attach a bar to the back of every lorry at car-bumper height. Thus the impact of a collision would be taken by the vehicle, not the driver. It was so obvious, but a lot of lorries did not acquire such bars until they were made compulsory. How many needless deaths occurred in the interim, due to the compliance mentality?

You can probably think of similar examples in your industry.

Are you doing enough?

The aim of Risk Management should not be mere compliance. It should be managing risks. Sometimes regulations can be overprescriptive and work against the better management of risks. We just have to live with them. Or get someone to revise them. But do try to understand why they are there.

What steps do you need to take to go beyond compliance towards best practice, or the most appropriate practice for you?

I wrote about this in my book Load the Dice.

Load the dice - go beyond compliance

Are we being overprotective in our schools and in our businesses?

What is the concern?

Some people in government are concerned that schools are overprotective of the children in their care. These people are concerned that children will not develop the ability to identify and manage risks. If someone always holds your hand when you cross a road, you will not learn to watch the traffic and make sensible judgement calls.

Are the concerns groundless?

In my experience, I have encountered this overprotective approach alongside instances of the opposite in the same school. Perhaps some risks were more apparent, or had got onto someone’s check-list, whilst the ‘it couldn’t happen here’ approach ruled for others.

Let’s apply horse sense! They are not overprotective.

I remember the way my mare treated her foal. When it was very young, she was highly protective, but she gradually relaxed her vigilance as the youngster learnt to take care of itself. On one occasion, the foal ran up to an adult horse, making a nuisance of itself. The mare watched but did not intervene. The other horse made threatening gestures, until the foal gave up and left it alone. A month earlier the mare would have placed herself between her offspring and anything that might have harmed it. She was always protective, as far as it was appropriate. Never overprotective.

Can we be as sensible as that mare?

How overprotective are you in your business?

This is obviously relevant if you are a teacher or a parent, but is that all? I think we all need to learn about the risks in our businesses and in our lives and learn to assess and control them. That does not mean running away from them, neither does it mean ignoring them.

Let me know if you want to talk about this. Click this.

Horseshoe- reminder not to be overprotective
Don’r rely on luck but don’t be overprotective



Are we all using too much hindsight in business and in politics?

Hindsight has been a lot in the news.

Many people have been accused of indulging in hindsight when they have been highly critical of Kensington and Chelsea Council in the wake of the Grenfell Flats fire. I have previously said that hatred and bitterness were inappropriate responses towards the prime minister, and I extend that comment to all those who have been getting the blame. We are all human. The word Murder was definitely wrong.

However, that does not mean that there is no place for criticism.

The defenders of the Council have claimed its critics have been using far too much hindsight. I agree that whenever anything goes wrong there are plenty of people ready to say “I told you so” and others who claim they would have dealt with the situation far better.

What do I think of Kensington and Chelsea Council?

I am very dissatisfied with their response to the criticism. Although we need to let the inquiry do its job and refrain from jumping to conclusions, there are some things we know already. We need not accept a lot of the excuses.

Why am I sure I am not just using hindsight? 

Risk Management involves identifying risks and selecting measures to control them. There are requirements for big businesses and all the public sector to have risk management policies and procedures. There is also such a thing as emergency planning or business continuity. Some include that within risk management: others see it as a separate discipline. Whatever!

We know that there had been several warnings about various factors which contributed to the disaster. Yet, even if anyone can justify failing to act on them, there is the question of what happened afterwards.

Why did it seem that headless chickens were in charge?

When I worked for St Helens Council, my boss was the coordinator of emergency planning for the whole of Merseyside. He was often going to meetings with representatives of all the boroughs in the county and from the police, fire service, the NHS and parts of the private sector. They drew up plans for dealing with various kinds of emergencies. Several senior officers in each council had specific responsibilities in the event of an emergency.

Was there no similar thing in London? Was not a major fire one of the contingencies they would have considered?

What do I conclude?

Murder? No.Hindsight? No? Negligence? Yes.

What about us?

I hope none of us will wait for hindsight to be applied before we address the risks in and around our businesses, especially if they might affect other people.  And if you are in local or central government…need I say more?


Does your business have resilience?

Remember the other fire? It highlights business resilience.

Although the public and the media have been concentrating, understandably, on the Grenfell Tower Tragedy, there has been another fire in London  – in the Camden Lock Market. Thankfully, nobody was killed in this one, but many businesses have had to close: some temporarily, but others possibly permanently.

This is a reminder that Risk Management is not only about preventing bad things from happening. It is also about being prepared in case they do. This aspect of RM is sometimes called Resilience, or Business Continuity. Something Kensington and Chelsea Council seem unaware of.

How much resilience does your business have?

Are you prepared for a major fire, flood, terrorism, cyber attack or other serious incident, whether beyond your control or not in the first place?

Dice - a reminder of the risks we nee resilience to cope with
Could one throw of the dice close your business?

Part of the solution could lie in Business Continuity Insurance. However, as in all risks, insurance we should not view insurance as an answer in itself, but as part of a risk control strategy.

I have written about this previously,  in an e-zine article Is Business Interruption Insurance the Answer to the Threats Which Could Put You Out of Business? 

Do you want to review your strategy to increase your resilience?

Or look for a  strategy? Click here to  ask me. A little chat won’t cost anything. Even a full review won’t cost you your business!

Do landlords have special risks?

I have recently spoken to a few letting agents and even the odd landlord.  Whilst I think most of the risks they face are similar to those for a lot of other businesses, I thought it worthwhile listing the main areas they need to be concerned with.  If any of you want to go into these in more detail, please get in touch.

Risk Management for Landlords

Property Risks

Fire, Storm, Theft, Accidental Damage, Malicious Damage

NB Empty Property Risks

Public Liability Risks

Landlord and Tenant

Complaints by tenants and complaints about tenants

General Third Party (Negligence)

Disability and other discrimination

Claims Procedures

Maintenance records, complaints records, photos

Cyber Risk, Data Protection

Backups, IT Security, Housekeeping, Tenancy agreements

Financial Risks

Rent levels, Collection Arrangements, Accounts, Tax

Controlling costs. cash flow