A RATIONAL MINDSET: Risks, like snakes, are often viewed as threats, despite their potential benefits.

Author:Wright, Rick
Position:Risk Watch
 
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Remember the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones enters the Well of the Souls, which happens to be a snake-infested pit? After throwing a torch into the pit to reveal his plight, he exclaims, "Snakes ... why did it have to be snakes?"

Granted, this scene is plotted to presume the snakes are venomous, so Indiana's fear is rational. But his initial reaction reveals his bias about snakes in general--the same way some people are irrationally averse to risk.

Internal auditors have a professional duty to remain objective as they perform their work. This unbiased mindset must extend to remaining rational when it comes to communicating with audit clients about risk.

Why Did It Have to Be Risk?

Snakes are vilified as animals that hide in dark places, stealthily seeking out prey and striking when they least expect it. An objective study of snakes reveals a much more accurate view of these complex creatures. Not all snakes are aggressive, nor are they all venomous or massive constrictors capable of inflicting great harm to people, as we often see in movies or hear about in the news.

In fact, snakes can be beneficial. Take the black rat snake, which is effective at controlling harmful rodent populations. One black rat snake can eat 100 mice per acre in a year. What farmer wouldn't readily adopt at least a couple of these hunters to offset the negative impact mice have on property and equipment, not to mention the potential spread of disease?

People sometimes perceive risk with the same irrational viewpoint. Too often, when discussing risk and risk management philosophy with business professionals in the course of internal audit work, the conversation gravitates toward an unbalanced, negative attitude about risk.

One time, my audit team was conducting an audit workshop with a group of business managers. The team was explaining how our audit activities were risk-based so that we focused on things that matter most to their functions' success. The supervisor for this group of managers interrupted our discussion to admonish the group that they needed to be focused on risk to eliminate it from the company. While it was an innocent exclamation the supervisor truly believed, it was an unfortunate and unplanned distraction from our discussion that the audit team had to clarify with the workshop participants.

The interruption turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It enabled the internal audit team to lead a healthy discussion about the...

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