Complexity – It’s all around us and it’s a major risk.

In 2016, I wrote about the future of risk after attending a PARMA conference.  The future I pointed to was one of complexity.  Sure enough, it is here.  We have become so complex and specialized that a single machine can no longer handle multiple functions.

At this little local shop, they use 5 machines to handle their 20 item menu

Simply put, we are heading for unprecedented disaster.  A world where humans have forgotten how to do basic tasks, like make the change; write in cursive, use simple hand tools; tie a knot or even change a battery.   And let’s not forget multiple devices means multiple batteries; more energy to charge them; and more risk to the environment when it comes time to dispose of them.  Don’t believe me, just look at the box 4 batteries were sent in.


Ordered along with 2 SD cards, yet sent separately


What’s this got to do with risk and complexity?  Frankly, a lot.

From an enterprise risk management perspective, we are looking at fire hazards from overstocking shipping supplies; ergonomic issues from boxing multiple packages; additional fuel costs; additional driving risk while on the road (large packages take up space that could have utilized); overtime, rest period and other labor issues; But what should really be considered is the inherent risk in complexity.  Which is the object of this article?

While there is not much that wasn’t covered in this post on complexity it happened a lot faster than I ever thought possible.   Thirty-six years ago, one of my instructors told me that “in the future, technology will change so rapidly that it will change daily.”  His example was walking out of the store with a phone and it being obsolete by the next morning.  I used to think that he was, simply put, nuts.  Now his vision of the future is closer than I want to admit.

The issue again is complexity.  When things change that fast, when things become so complex, they are almost impossible to manage from a risk perspective.  Safety and risk are typically not the first things thought of when developing new products or services.  And when they are being developed in terms relative to Big Data, meaning large volume and highly specific, you have to possess super-powers in order to understand and deal with them.  Organizations will need to develop entire teams of specialist that can address a variety of things.

I have routinely stated that everything is a science and my statement has proved accurate beyond even my comprehension.  Take tires on vehicles for example.  We have become so complex in the details, that we have a specialist for every part that makes up a tire.  Tires come from rubber, which comes from trees, which requires soil and water and air and sun to grow.  That’s just the beginning of the complex, expert, supply chain that makes up the tire.  Then we get into heat, melting, bonding, and tread sizes and patterns.  And that is just the tire.  If you think that one person can handle this complex process with the level of detail all those experts hold, you are wrong.  You need a team.

And a team is what we are missing

While the world is heading down Complex Court, the world of risk and safety is still on Simple Street.  It is time that we as risk managers plan well.  That means we need budgets and most importantly we need people.  Things that use to be run simply now require prodigious amounts of knowledge.  Here’s some to think about:


Examples of complexity in risk

  • More than 50 endorsements to certificates of insurance – is it covered or not?
  • More than 120 (124) required training by CalOSHA for safety  More than a college degree.
  • Certified Pool Operator
  • Certified Underground Tank Specialist
  • Robotics Programs


I urge you to think more about complexity, not only in what comes to you but also what you put into your organization.

Hope you enjoyed this article.  If you need more personalized assistance, you can work directly with us.  Reach out here.

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