The look of horror on the instructors face when the power station engineer pulled out an 18 inch screwdriver from his bag (just in case anything on the Ferranti Argus circuit boards needed tweaking) is an image indelibly captured in my brain.
This may be an example of incompatible hardware (the Argus, not the brain) but the incident is a parable that warns us of the risks from expecting spectacular results from precise, authoritative actions. The engineer and his screwdriver would probably have given spectacular results but not of the kind which was wanted. It's all too complex.
Whether it's a change to the technology components of the system, such as a new function or the ubiquitous bug fix, or it's the activities of the human element, such as fixing interest rates in the belief that (a) you won't be caught, and (b) the fix will not damage the lending system, confidence, reputation, or all three. Actions have consequences which will need their own compensatory activity further down the line, sooner or later. Heavens! Even Blake's Seven started drifting off course when they switch the computers off and lost the compensations for compensations for compensations. Dirk Gently wasn't wrong in his observation about the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. We can but await Adam's futurescape where we can extrapolate the whole of creation - every sun, every planet, their orbits, their composition and their economic and social history - from, say, one small piece of fairy cake. Many a true word spoken in jest!
If we've made a change and nothing bad has happened, it should be because we have engaged sufficient expertise to support a change management process, not just because we got away with it so far. Like the old flowchart for problem-solving, one of the key questions is, 'does anybody know about it? If somebody uploads untested software in the forest will anybody know about it. When traffic management software was procured to smooth urban evacuation. Like all good disaster planning, rehearsal was in order. Six hours into the evacuation, with several hours still to go to completion, the software reset itself. The conclusion: this was a bug in the software that needed fixing. The problem was more fundamental. This software was broken from the outset. It had never worked. And now the correction would be poised to introduce six new errors (Graham).
Risk management (and watch this space for our new guide) is a dynamic, organic creature which seeks to turn the unknowable into the unknown and the unknown and the known. This isn't some play the famous Donald Rumsfeld adage but rather homage to an excellent paper on taxonomy-based risk identification. Most models merely attenuate but some are so interconnected through their simplicity they get you off the starting blocks, allow you to pump more through their veins, and before the mixed metaphors become scrambled, the activity becomes part of everyday life. Idealist? Unrealistic? The truth can be simple and complex at the same time. What the hey?! Atomic particles do this duality business as a matter of course.
The black swans are out there ready to flap their wings. Sometimes the events aren't even grey cygnets and shouldn't be worthy of our surprise: so when part of Amazon Web Services are taken down by a storm, together with the back-up generator (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18672173) it raised zero on the surprise-o-meter. Let's own up and realise that sometimes we've committed our systems to a Scotch mist rather than a cloud. There's no point waving the service level agreement at that point, the best you can do is to learn the lessons and realise that the more interconnected we, the more that we're in it together. It's good to treat risk. Even better, set-aside that daily block of time to ride rollercoaster of treatment across the landscape of Eliot's time present and time past which are both present in time future. Familiarity breeds not contempt but rather boosts the confidence to make the changes that increase the risk of success. As Hillel said, If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And if I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?