Risk Alchemy: From Medieval Madness to Modern Missteps

Picture a medieval doctor, his face masked behind a beak-like plague mask filled with aromatic herbs. He prepares a treatment for a sickly patient, a blend of wine mixed with crushed emeralds, or maybe he’s about to perform a bloodletting. As ridiculous as these treatments sound today, they were all the rage in the middle ages. Shockingly, there is a modern-day equivalent to these medieval medical practices: qualitative risk assessment techniques used by today’s risk managers.

Let’s explore three of the most bizarre medieval medical practices and see how they mirror the questionable techniques employed in risk management.

Bloodletting: Draining the Problem Away

The first example is bloodletting, a prevalent medieval practice based on the belief that illness was due to an imbalance in the body’s “humours.” The solution was simple – drain some blood to restore balance. We now know that bloodletting often did more harm than good, weakening patients and sometimes even leading to death.

In risk management, qualitative risk assessments often rely on oversimplified methods of ‘draining’ risks. These methods, such as generic risk matrices, may seem to provide a neat solution to complex problems, but they often fail to accurately represent the intricate nature of risks, leading to misguided decision-making and potentially disastrous outcomes.

Trepanation: Drilling a Hole to the Solution

Next up is trepanation, an ancient surgical operation that involved drilling a hole into the human skull to treat various ailments. Despite the high risk and lack of scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness, it was a widely accepted treatment.

In the risk management world, the parallel lies in the reliance on arbitrary risk scoring systems. Just as medieval doctors believed in the unproven benefits of trepanation, many risk managers place unwavering faith in these scoring systems. They drill down into risk data, assigning numerical scores based on subjective judgements, which oversimplify and often distort the true nature of the risk.

Applying Leeches: The Quick Fix Solution

Finally, let’s look at leech therapy. In medieval times, doctors applied leeches to patients to cure them of various illnesses. It was a quick fix, but one that often ignored the root causes of the patient’s ailments.

The leech therapy of risk management is the reliance on quick-fix qualitative risk assessments that fail to probe deeper into underlying risk issues. Just as leeches were a superficial solution, these risk assessments tend to gloss over complex risk dynamics and provide simplistic solutions that don’t address the root causes.

The parallels between medieval medical practices and current risk management techniques are uncanny and concerning. Just as we look back and wince at the naivety of medieval medicine, will future risk managers look back at our current practices with the same disdain?

It’s time we rethink our approach to risk management, moving away from superficial and oversimplified techniques towards methods that reflect the complex, intricate nature of risk. The future of risk management should be built on a solid understanding of risk dynamics, not on outdated techniques that may do more harm than good.

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