The Intrinsic Beauty of Risk Management: How Art and the Discipline Converge

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We gauge the value of our jobs in predictable ways. There is the salary we earn, the raises we view as milestones and the bonuses we receive. There is the title that precedes us and the corner office in which we sit (or hope to someday). There are the promotions, the capital letters after our names and the lists of honorary positions we hold. We fill a resume--or online networks--with well-worded achievements and complete year-end reports detailing the bottom-line impact of our daily toils. We shake hands with and collect cards from contacts who impress. These are all notable and impressive accomplishments. Any individual should be proud to count a fraction of these as a part of their professional portfolio. But in the admirable effort to pursue that secular, capitalist version of Max Weber's Protestant work ethic, a shade of value has been underappreciated--if recognized at all.

The Greek word kalokagatia is defined as beauty-good. Ancient Greek philosophers examined life and its achievements with these parallel ideals: what is beautiful is good and what is good is beautiful. These qualities together form the pinnacle of human endeavor.

Why should you care? According to this collection of fairly respectable thinkers, if your life is beautiful you have achieved something noble and, according to their hierarchy of beliefs, something nearly divine. We may hope that our jobs are not our lives, at least entirely. But working another late night at the office or head-butting a deadline after the family has gone to bed, would it not be nice to think that your efforts--despite the impression of the moment--are, in fact, beautiful?

Within risk management lies such beauty.

The Art of Safety Design

One place to start examining the beauty of the risk profession is in safety product designs. Some of the top experts in the art field provide ample persuasion with their analysis of unnoticed delights in your midst.

In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York recognized the art of risk management in its exhibition "Safe: Designers Take on Risks." The works on display ranged from theoretical designs to the practical tools familiar to many risk professionals: from the Lumber Pro Class 3 Safety Boot and the Class 95 Particulate Respirator to the Prepare Oregon UNDERthe TABLE Workstation Safety Kit and the Yaktrax Walker for icy conditions. Even airplane passenger briefing cards were displayed for their artistry.

"Each design had to transcend the outcome of the equation of its form and function by displaying meaning ... and, last but not least, ingenious beauty," stated MoMA senior curator of architecture and design Paola Antonelli in the exhibition catalogue.

By simply surrounding yourself and your employees with such safety designs of "ingenious beauty" you create beauty in your job. But this is just the start.

"Aesthetic pursuit is enriched by an appreciation of function and technology as well as economy of means," Antonelli stated.

In this way, the risk professional is instrumental in fostering beauty and not just taking care of designers' creativity. You play a vital part in creating the beauty in that piece of equipment by promoting its use. You allow an appealing design to display its meaning.

If the beauty in a piece of safety equipment is a combination of its function and aesthetic, and clearly you understand the function, you are left to examine the aesthetic. How can you look at those defibrillators and see their intrinsic beauty? Take a cue from the professionals.

In evaluating works that represent the very best of the design world, the curators considered form, function, meaning, innovation, cultural impact, product lifecycle and necessity. You too can apply those qualifications. Consider, for example, that defibrillator on the wall.

"We were particularly drawn to the 'heartzap' symbol, which needs no explanation," said Antonelli of the HeartStart defibrillator. …