So said risk manager at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art John Kirwan when he spoke at the recent Risk and Insurance Management Society Risk Forum, adding that he was careful to avoid ‘conventional approaches’

Indeed, conventional is not the first word that comes to mind when one thinks of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), which opened in Hobart in 2011 and is now a major tourist attraction.

MONA founder David Walsh is on record as saying that guilt about becoming risk as a professional gambler was one of the reasons he set up the gallery.

However, Kirwan told the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS) Risk Forum audience that Walsh’s gambler’s instincts gave him a high tolerance to risk.

“We embrace risk and manage it unconventionally, and at the end of it, we get successful outcomes,” Kirwan said, providing examples of some of MONA’s risk management challenges, such as interactive ice walls and worm-farm chapels.

“I have deep personal reservations about zero-harm concepts, engineering applications, and linear applications of mathematical theories saying they will give a perfect result.

“Variation can bring incredible results.”

Kirwan has more than 30 years’ experience in managing risk in sectors such as forestry, construction and acquaculture. He said that MONA’s flat management structure meant that it was expected that the gallery’s employees would “give us bad news”.

“In fact, we depend on it,” he said.

“I operate in the area of uncertainty. I’m not being conditioned to follow practices; I’m not following mantras. The great thing about RIMS coming to Australia is they are taking us out of usual channels, and bringing up the issue of culture.”

Risk appetite

Kirwan was joined on stage by RIMS director of strategic and enterprise risk practice Carol Fox (both pictured), who examined how different organisations aligned risk appetite principles to strike an appropriate balance between taking risks within acceptable boundaries and pursuing opportunity.

US-based Fox said that how much risk an organisation assumed – either knowingly or unwittingly – played a large part in whether an uncertain future outcome actually improved or worsened the organisation’s position.

“Attitudes toward risk tolerance and risk appetite depend on the organisation’s overall existing culture, even though individuals within the organisation may exhibit differing opinions about levels of acceptance,” Fox said.

“That is one of the reasons defining the terms is foundational for a common understanding.”

In her presentation, Fox described differing approaches by organisations such as General Motors, Paychex, LEGO, a healthcare company and RIMS itself.

“In many cases, organisations that formalise their risk appetite and tolerance approach find that they can and should be taking on more risk in order to accomplish their respective strategic objectives and are more confident that they are operating within the risk appetite and tolerance boundaries they set,” Fox said.

After the forum, Fox told StrategicRISK that one risk professional told her that the RIMS Risk Forum was the only venue in the region where the presenters and attendees shared practical approaches that actually are in use.

“She came looking for specific answers to challenges that she was facing, and found solutions that she could apply,” Fox said.

Click here for StrategicRISK’s full report on the RIMS Risk Forum.