Sharing ideas on Risk, Human Performance, Teams and Leaders

How was Risky Business Born? Part II

Published: Mon 01 Apr 2019
How we chose the themes and speakers for Risky Business London 2019

When we were planning Risky Business 2019, the whole team looked at the big global issues of the day. We had sadly suffered several major atrocities in the UK over the past few years including the Grenfell fire, the Manchester bombing and the London Bridge attack.  

One of the Most Successful Rescue Missions of our Time

On the positive side we had also witnessed one of the most successful rescue missions of our time in which a world class British caving team miraculously found and then helped rescue the Thai cave football team. There was also more information coming out about post traumatic stress syndrome after such major incidents as well as ideas on  how one supports teams through such crises in order to avoid PTSD occurring. The Hillsborough Public Enquiry was also responsible for revealing incredible stories of goodwill and learning 20 years after the tragedy.

Crisis Management

We therefore thought that our first major theme for Risky 2019 should focus on crisis management and how frontline professionals managed such crises, what they had learnt, what they felt appropriate to share and how they supported each other afterwards.

We are indeed very grateful that a number of these professionals have very kindly and generously agreed to share these stories with us. They will include The London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton and Assistant Commissioner Andy Roe talking about the unforgettable Grenfell fire and the bravery of the fire fighters that terrible night. Dr Christine Blanshard, the Medical Director of Salisbury NHS Trust will share her lessons on managing the longest major incident in NHS history after the Novichock poisoning in Salisbury that caught the attention of the world.

Thai Cave Rescue

It was absolutely incredible for me to discover that John Volanthan, one of our former employees and a colleague at Great Ormond Street Hospital, was one of the heroic world expert cavers who, to the surprise of the world found and then helped rescue the Thai football kids.

We cannot wait to hear his story and learn from him.

‘Burnout and Well Being’

The next theme we decided to tackle was 'Burnout and Well Being' as this is now thought to be one of the most underestimated crises in healthcare and other high pressure industries. Fiona Godlee (Editor of The BMJ) and her colleague Rachel suggested we approach Dr Robin J Warshafsky, a GP, who has very kindly agreed to highlight the awful reality and the consequences of this potentially devastating condition.

He will share the story of his son, an anaesthetist trainee, who sadly and tragically took his own life. Robin will give his reflections on how we can prevent this happening to our closest colleagues in the future.

Human Factors

Most professionals now recognise that any disaster is rarely due to a single human error, but more a combination of the human component and the system they work in and how these interact. This was eloquently described by the guru of human factors, Prof Jim Reason, who spoke at a previous Risky Business conference about his ‘Swiss cheese model’ of Organisational Accidents. 

Day 2 – Humans, Technology and Systems

On Day two of the conference we chose to focus on how we can make a difference by looking at the critical interface between humans, technology, organisations and the systems we work in.  We decided to open the day with one of the best authors on this topic Margaret Heffernan Margare who was also a CEO so understands the challenging facing executives in the real world.

She will talk about the vital issue of wilful blindness on an individual and organisational level. We then plan to have two case studies of where things have gone wrong as a combination of human error and systems failure.


One will be in healthcare and the other from a defining moment in rugby, when Tom Williams, will tell the story of “Blood gate” which occurred in the semi-final of the Heineken Rugby Cup. A simple plan to optimise the blood bin rule went terribly wrong when red lines were crossed, culminating in the team doctor being asked by the player to cut his lip with a scalpel.

Safety Behaviour

In terms of systems transformation, we have asked two senior executives, one from Washington DC and the other from Singapore to tell their story on how they successfully implemented a programme of cultural change around safety and behaviour across their organisations.  We must thank The Cognitive Institute who area wholly owned subsidiary of our main sponsor Medical Protection, for their involvement in this section.

Technology, Innovation and Leadership

Technology, innovation and Leadership are always at the heart of progress and so these have always been consistent themes at our Risky Business Conference. We decided that this year we would delve into the controversial world of stem cell treatments, the use of virtual reality in clinical practice and what is the latest in roadside CPR using video ‘apps’ on smart phones to get help as soon as possible and cardiopulmonary bypass machines at the roadside when all else fails – all amazing innovations.

Team Philosophy and the Culture of the Team

Our RB team has always believed that in the end it is all about the people in organisations. For us this encompasses leaders, team philosophy and the culture of that team.

We therefore always attempt to attract speakers who are authentic leaders of teams who have delivered. This year we are delighted to welcome Nick Fry  (former CEO of Mercedes F1 team and Aston Martin) who will talk about how they recovered from Honda withdrawing from F1 just before the start of the season.

He will explain how they transformed the team who then won the world championship the next year and how they developed the incredibly successful Mercedes F1 Team.

Right First Time

Tim Evans, from the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and NHS Improvement, will talk about the impact of their getting it right first time programme in healthcare and former NASA Astronaut and Aquanaut, Nicole Stott, will talk about teamwork at the absolute extremes in space and deep under the ocean - Environments where teams simply have to get on and work together in order to survive.

 And last but certainly not least we are so fortunate to have Amy Pope, Former US Deputy Homeland security advisor to President Obama will talk about building coalitions to proactively deal with crises, using the Ebola crisis as an example.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion has also been a very topical subject recently with the “Me Too” campaign. The other story that really caught our attention was the Starbucks “racial” incident that went viral in the media. What really interested us was also how the organisation responded by closing every shop around the world on a single day to focus on diversity training. We will be fascinated to hear the ethos behind this and what was achieved by doing this in terms of cultural change across a global organisation. We are enormously grateful to Beto Guajardo, Senor Vice President of Global Strategy at Starbuck who has so generously agreed to share his reflections.

 We are also very grateful to Dame Inga Beale, the only female CEO ever to lead one of the ' big four' insurance companies, for agreeing to give her reflections on what makes for outstanding leadership and governance as well as her views on diversity and inclusion. 

The ‘B’ Word

And finally, as we planned the RB London programme, we realised that we could not consider running this years event without talking about the “B” word and who knows where we will be then? We have therefore asked Steve Richards, arguably one of the most influential political analysts (running Rock ‘n’ Roll politics) to give us a state of the nation update on the day.

Lord Adonis will also kindly share his opinion on where we will be at the time of the conference, your guess being as good as mine.

‘The Magpie Principle’

All the members of our Risky Business team have two main aims for our conference. We want every member of the audience to leave the venue having been stimulated by the stories they have heard. Guy mentioned that when he was a training captain he used to work on the ‘Magpie principle’ - The Magpie principle is when you see another professional who has a good idea then steal it and use it in order to make your operation safer and less risky. We want all our delegates to take ideas away from the conference and embed them within their practice to make their areas of operation less risky.

Raising the Bar

We genuinely think we have raised the bar again with our signed up speakers and our evolving programme of entertainment to go alongside of it. This year we will have a brass band, the Beat Bops guys, live CPR simulation and an Irish Dance Troop. As one delegate said it is an experience rather than a conference. That’s what we strive for and ask you to come along and be the best judge.

We always half joke that our ultimate goal is to some day offer our audience a full refund if this is not one of the best conferences they have ever attend. Sadly we can’t quite afford to risk this yet!

Author: Allan Goldman

Details about the London programme are here