Tara is a helpful mnemonic for transfer, avoid, reduce, accept: the principal risk management options.
Years ago oil consumers, oil producers, policy-makers, and industry regulators decided the need for oil — and our understanding of the risks — was sufficient to no longer avoid the risks associated with ultra-deep water drilling.
But in several subsequent decisions related to the Deepwater Horizon platform, BP and its financial and management partners accepted more risk than they fully realized. Applying the Cynefin framework (below), they almost certainly mistook profound complexity as being merely complicated. In a few benighted instances they may even have been deluded into thinking their task was simple. (Please see Chris Bellavita’s Tuesday post for more on the Cynefin framework. Chris has also written a related piece in the Homeland Security Affairs Journal.)
Because of this failure to accurately assess context, BP and others — including regulators — accepted (or, more accurately, transferred) more risk than consciously intended. Regulators did not require lease-holders to give specific attention to catastrophic risk, did not effectively enforce the limited risk readiness included in lease provisions, and failed to ensure that risk readiness involved active participation, collaboration, and deliberation by key stakeholders. Minimal action was taken to reduce risk. There was a paucity of sense-making, a lack of full awareness, and a dangerously myopic view of reality.
In a complex situation the Cynefin framework advocates a process of probing, sensing, and responding. This probing is similar to Elinor Ostrom’s participation/collaboration/deliberation. The emerging evidence suggests that even among those physically proximate on the Deepwater Horizon probing and sensing were constrained. No wonder we were not prepared to respond.
Once the latent complexity of the situation was exposed through death, injury, and destruction, there is a question as to whether BP and others recognized the transition from complexity to chaos. In any case, because they (we) had not fully engaged the complexity of the context, they (we) were not ready to act, sense, and respond to the chaos. We were ill-prepared to manage the risk we had unthinkingly accepted.
Once BP, the Coast Guard, the White House and all of us recognized the unfolding chaos we began to behave more realistically. As we behaved in a manner better calibrated to reality we recognized some aspects of our situation as simple, some as complicated, some as complex, and some as chaotic. Depending on the reality of the context, many of us — perhaps even most of us — eventually behaved appropriately to the context.
But that “eventually” allowed millions of gallons of toxic oil to gush for over eighty days. In our decisions, non-decisions, and especially in our unintentional obliviousness we essentially transferred the risk of ultra-deepwater drilling to the ecology and economy of the Gulf of Mexico… and to those creatures — human and not — who are especially in relationship with the Gulf.
Intellectual and operational frameworks, such as Tara and Cynefin, are helpful. But all of them depend on the users’ ability to engage reality. Every framework I know depends on adapting appropriately to context. The user must be attentive.
In Buddhism and Hinduism Tara is also a manifestation of compassion. There are several aspects of Tara. The Green Tara shown below is especially associated with liberation from fear and protection from material threats. Tara is widely understood to be particularly effective in helping us avoid accidents.
Many Tibetan Buddhists begin each day reciting a mantra to Tara: Om Tara tuttare ture svaha. There is a deeper meaning, but very roughly this can be understood as, “O thee who saves, free me from greed, hatred and delusion, deepen my relationships with others. May I be as thee.”
Greed, hatred, and delusion are recurring impediments to a full understanding of reality. Failing to recognize our relationships with others will undo the most excellent management protocols.
What both forms of Tara suggest is the ongoing responsibility we have to engage with others to be attentive, to understand reality as best we can, to honor our relationships with one another and our environment, and to shape our behavior to reduce the risks of mindlessness.
How any of us gin up the discipline and persistence for this is a personal issue. Whether it is a four-part risk management regime — or a framework inspired by Welsh wisdom, or an ancient Tibetan mantra, or a spectral vision of Peter Drucker floating above our bed — doesn’t matter as much as arising each morning ready to give attention, be in relationship, and take responsibility for our behavior.