Risk Management: Even Monkeys Do It
In my last two posts I wrote about a recent holiday trip I took to rural Malaysia. The purpose of the trip was not shopping or sightseeing, but relaxing.
As we get older, the pressures of life and work are such that relaxing is something we have to learn how to do. When we’re young, it tends to come more naturally.
When we set out to relax, we can often be our own worst enemy. If you’re a golfer and you’re having a bad round, you have the choice of getting all wound up about it, or taking it in stride while still enjoying the day. The same goes for fishing, sailing and many other leisure pursuits.
Some people enjoy competitive leisure pursuits; others prefer non-competitive ones. I’m one of the latter group.
In other words, as silly as it seems, as we age, we have to consciously remind ourselves how to relax, and unwind from the high-pitched pace of life and work. At this stage in life, relaxation is not just a bonus, it’s an important component of living a healthy life.
Ideally, holiday trips for relaxation purposes involve a change of place, as well as a change of pace. One question we face in this current age of 24/7 mobile connectedness concerns what to do with our mobile devices. Do we stay fully connected while on holiday, or not?
On the one hand, constant reminders of work-related stuff are counter-productive to the goal of relaxing. On the other hand, we want to be responsible and accessible in case of emergency.
For me, to completely disconnect from emails for several days means a tall mountain of them will await me at the end of the trip. The thought of this mountain is not helpful to the process of relaxing. My compromise solution is to check emails only once a day and solely with an eye towards anything urgent, with the rest of the stuff getting a quick scan only. I allocate time after the trip for dealing with the more routine emails.
One of the appealing things about a change of place is that it provides a platform for us to think out of the box, in a different physical and cultural environment than our everyday one.
As I wrote last week, while on an early morning walk near my seaside guest house, I saw a troupe of 30 or 40 monkeys (macaques). Or to be more precise, they saw me. They were well hidden in the trees, although only 100 meters or so away from the road I was walking along.
What first alerted me to their presence was the shrill warning call of their lookout monkey, whose job is to warn the troupe when intruders draw near. If this particular monkey carried a business card, his title would be something like “Head of Risk Management” followed by the name of his monkey troupe.
Ironically, after his warning call, the trees began to shake as dozens of monkeys moved deeper into the forest. The noise of so many monkeys on the move was considerable. Had I been a hunter, I would have been happy that the Head of Risk Management had alerted me to the presence of so many targets close at hand.
Moral: it’s not just identifying risk and warning others; it’s the resulting course of action which matters most.
Monkeys are not alone in the animal kingdom with respect to having designated members of the community responsible for risk management. Another example occurs among cockatoos.
“他去当凤头鹦鹉了吗？” / Has he gone ‘cockatoo’?
I learned a few years ago when visiting Queensland, Australia, where sugar cane is a very important crop, that cockatoos annually cause huge losses to farmers by chewing the tops off the stalks of the cane. As one local Aussie was describing the extent of these losses to me, I asked whether or not farmers hunted them in order to protect their crops?
His expression showed great surprise at my question, and he answered with a question: “Do you know the expression ‘to go cockatoo’?”
Obviously I did not. He explained that this slang expression in Australian English means to play the role of a lookout or sentry. When a flock of cockatoos descend on a plot of sugar cane, one of them plays the role of lookout, warning the others of any approaching danger such as a farmer with a gun. My Aussie friend assured me this made them almost impossible to shoot.
“Bloody smart birds, mate.”
Once again, effective risk management seems to begin in the animal kingdom. Such are the trivial but interesting insights we sometimes collect while relaxing on holiday.