Welcome to Pitch Your PhD – Shownotes
Season 1, Episode 10
Risk management with Laurie Bowman
In this episode of Pitch Your PhD, Dr Catherine Ball had a “RISKY” talk with Laurie Bowman on his journey of risk management in engineering projects and how he is trying to integrate quantitave and qualitative approach when calculating risk…
Diversity is the essence of life and being able to make better decisions through doing that as well as having empathy and understanding other people’s risk perceptions is so critical to effective risk management, particularly in projects, programs, and portfolios, which is where the focus of the research is….
Laurie is a seasoned engineering project risk management with years of experience in managing complex engineering projects. His passion in risk and ethics lead him in his PhD journey to find a framework to better understanding risk…. and what it means to future innovations and combating climate change
This is a “kind of, sort of, vaguely close” copy of the words from this episode.
IT IS NOT 100% accurate. We are very sorry if we have spelt something completely incorrectly. If it means a lot to you to have it corrected, email us at email@example.com
PYP – Laurie Bowman
[00:00:00] Catherine: Welcome to Pitch your PhD, a podcast, sharing the stories of PhD students from the past and the present in the hope to inspire the future. I’m your host, Dr. Catherine Ball. My distinguished guest today is Laurie Bowman. Laurie is a seasoned engineering project, risk management expert.
[00:00:18] Who’s been involved in many complicated projects over the years. He grew up in Cairns with his brothers and sisters, and has always been into team sports. As a child, Laurie was fascinated with how observing teams work together and to him, the sports are a mini metaphor of life. Today as an engineering project manager, looking at risk and .Team communication, Laurie could not help himself, but to think of a way to apply the positive aspects of sport teamwork into engineering projects.
[00:00:46] So Laurie did not actually have a set plan to do a PhD. After years of managing complex engineering projects.
[00:00:53] Laurie found himself connected to somebody involved in outreach from his Alma mater, the University of Queensland. [00:01:00] One thing led to another, and Lori decided to visit the university when he was next in Brisbane. And it was on that fateful visit that he met with university director, Dr. Maureen Hassell, who planted the idea in his mind for him to do a PhD. Laurie was surprised to find that there has been very little research done in the area of project risk management and the work that had been done wasn’t really all that great. After seeing many exciting projects fail. Projects that could have offered so many benefits to the community. He aspires to be a better engineer
[00:01:31] by obtaining a PhD, Laurie wants to establish a scientific method that demonstrates the pathways of what good practice is in risk management. And as we come out of this pandemic, Laurie, I can’t think of a better time to start having serious conversations about the methodology of how we think about risk. Welcome to pitch your PhD.
[00:01:50] Laurie: thank you very much, Catherine. It’s good to be here.
[00:01:52] Catherine: So I would like to know a little bit more about what you’re actually going to be doing right now. Does your thesis have a title? How far into it are [00:02:00] you, what is going on with your PhD status right now
[00:02:02] Laurie: so yeah, good question. So I’ve actually been going through very much a learning process in establishing the topic for my research. So I’ve sort of gone around in circles somewhat, and, it’s been very much a learning journey for me in that process. So I come from a quantitative risk background, but I’m quite fascinated by the qualitative side of things.
[00:02:23] And in particular integrating the two and how we make decisions with some of the things that maybe don’t lend themselves to quantification so much. So I’ve sort of gone full circle with my research and at the moment I’m, I’m studying myself qualitative research techniques. In particular phenomenography to better understand how people understand and perceive risk themselves.
[00:02:45] And that’s going to be pretty much the starting point of my research.
[00:02:48] Catherine: You just introduced me to a brand new word. So I’m going to stop you right there and ask you to tell me something like a phenomenon. Phenomenography what on earth is that?
[00:02:55] Laurie: Yeah. That’s all right. So I, I cannot say it for the life of me. There’s just too [00:03:00] many syllables or something that, but it’s about, very, very much researching with the intention of understanding what somebody’s mental model or understanding of a particular concept is. So risk is one of those interesting terms that we all use in different ways, in different areas of society, including engineering, and even within risk practitioners within engineering.
[00:03:22] There’s some that are focused on safety. Some that are focused on cost are not so many that are looking at integrating the lot together. So I think understanding. seeking to identify how people understand risk as the starting point and see what emerges from that. And then comparing that with the existing literature and going from there.
[00:03:41] Catherine: You see, risk for me is a beast that’s very similar to ethics in that. It, is it your risk or is it my risk? Is it your ethics or is it my ethics? how do we actually perceive it? So are you finding that there’s a few parallels between some of these other, what people may have called soft skills in the past, which is incredibly denigrating to something that’s so [00:04:00] important, between things like risk and ethics and morality, or even parts of the human condition?
[00:04:05] Laurie: I agree completely. And that’s the essence of it. So it’s amazing that you’ve articulated that so well. So it really is about decision making. How do we make decisions and part of the research very similar to the team analogy, which I’d forgotten that I’d shared that all that time ago is how do we make decisions as individuals?
[00:04:22] And then when we’re working as teams, we need to have that shared understanding of ethics, values and, those sorts of things in order to have frameworks where we can work together and make decisions in a, consistent way. And as some of society’s problems become more complex, particularly looking at things like climate change, the pandemic, which has just been a mesmerizing case study to watch that unravel.
[00:04:48] we learn so much about trade-offs between, economic benefits and safety benefits and some of these sorts of things. So it’s all, all around that and the opportunity to create frameworks where we [00:05:00] can share with each other, what our understanding of risks is and perceptions of risks, so that we can better help each other make good decisions, particularly at a collective level.
[00:05:08] as well as the individual,
[00:05:09] Catherine: I remember watching a documentary. I don’t, if you’ve seen.
[00:05:12] it called Free Solo. About guy that climbs, I recommend you watch free solo. Cause there’s some interesting human aspects in this. it’s about this chap that scaled El Capitan, this sheer granite face in Yosemite national park.
[00:05:25] And so they did some studies on him and they always thought his personality was lending itself to emotional disconnection, but they weren’t quite sure why. and one day they decided to put them in an MRI scanner. To figure out how on earth he was able to face this challenge and just do it completely focused and almost seemingly unafraid of the impending death that he was facing, trying to climb and scale this thing.
[00:05:47] And it showed that part of his brain actually had a difference in it in terms of the area that actually processes fear. And actually values fear. So like, if we look at diversity as an issue around risk management, you know, it’s, [00:06:00] do you want to have a captain of the ship that has no sense of fear and risk? Or do you want to have a captain that has an overdeveloped sense of fear and risk?
[00:06:06] And I suppose the answer is you actually want a team of diverse perspectives around fear and risk. Is, is that something that you’re looking at with your thesis?
[00:06:14] Laurie: That is just a part of it. So looking at biases in general and a large part of it is the idea that you mitigate risk through diversity and that’s the same principles applied to everything. So financial risk, for example, is mitigated through diversifying investments. So looking at simple models of how people invest in stocks, for example, we do the same thing in decision-making on engineering projects.
[00:06:37] We involve people from a safety background from an operations and maintenance background from an environmental background, as well as the project team who were trying to deliver. Because we’ll come up with a richer decision-making and more likely optimize the result. So our biodiversity, in terms of our ecological environment, the same, you know, diversity is the essence of life and being able to make better decisions through doing that [00:07:00] as well as having empathy and understanding other people’s risk perceptions is so critical to effective risk management, particularly in projects, programs, and portfolios, which is where the focus of the research is.
[00:07:11] Catherine: So, you’re very early days into your PhD. So do you have a working title yet for your thesis.
[00:07:17] Laurie: No I don’t have a working title. So I did have a working title that I’ve reverted back from. So originally it was around, complex, disasters and catastrophes. It’s more pivoted now to be more in line with generating and sustaining value from project portfolios. So particularly looking at, well, it can be for any, type of portfolios of projects.
[00:07:37] So what we can do when we have a large group of projects together, and this is looking at some of the governance layers as well as program management layers and then working again to project risk layers and identify what risk management means at all of those levels, including a board level,
[00:07:53] so at, the moment, I’m doing some qualitative research on ethics, primarily to improve my qualitative [00:08:00] research understanding and skills in that area, which is are very much aligned with the risk management, and working through also to get another supervisor. So looking at improving the diversity of my supervisors, for example, I did have two from an engineering industry background.
[00:08:14] I’m now talking to the UQ business school advisor as well, just to get that extra balance of opinion.
[00:08:20] Catherine: So, a lot of people would go, oh, risk management what does a PhD going to do for you this? I mean, looking at your career in all of your experiences, and looking at the future of some of the issues that we’re going to be facing.
[00:08:31] And also some of the opportunities, especially around infrastructure in the Olympics and Paralympic games that are coming to Brisbane in 2032, why choose a PhD now, Laurie? What was missing? What does a PhD answer?
[00:08:43] Laurie: That’s a really good question. At first, I thought it would give me a So I’ve gone a lot of tests, and knowledge a lot of experience, that, you know, hasn’t necessarily been unpacked. And that’s the thing was, was one area that I was coming from originally, but then I thought, okay, so how to apply a scientific method [00:09:00] to convey that, to make something meaningful that gives value to society.
[00:09:03] And for me, it really is the intrinsic satisfaction of doing that. And that’s, what’s keeping me going now. And so it’s been an interesting, that the passion and the value that I see in it is significant because I think we’re not doing risk, right. And there’s a lot of opportunities. People understand it better.
[00:09:18] And where it’s been really good for me is opposite of come at it. I mean being a little bit facetious, but thinkingI’m right I know everything I need to get out there and tell them this is how it’s done. And of course, we’re not going to do that in a research environment I’ve hit a wall I’ve learnt that I need to understand other people’s perspectives better. I need to slow down to speed up. I need to get better at these particularly qualitative research methods, which is, was new for me and things like that. So I had to slide that right down, learn to get better at asking questions that making people feel safe and all of those sorts of things in other, in order to, get me going along.
[00:09:54] So, yeah, in answer to the question, so the benefit, or for me, it’s just tremendously satisfying. So I [00:10:00] love, ethics and risks I just love talking about both topics. And I can see certainly from the literature review that there is a significant gap there in, improving understanding of that. So for me, the opportunity to navigate my way through that and provide, something that informs and helps people is huge..
[00:10:16] Catherine: So talk us through your undergraduate journey to where you are now, if you could condense it down and distill it down into an espresso shot, rather than a long black, where have you gone and how have you find your way you know, through your systems engineering and your risk management.
[00:10:30] Laurie: So it’s definitely not been a linear process. It’s more been like a frog on a pond jumping from Lily pad to Lily pad and gathering bits and pieces and perspectives. So it started off, in projects. And sort of generally started off more on the quantitative side, but like solving problems and dealing with people and stuff like that.
[00:10:49] as part of developing a risk management plan, we also had to, come up with all sorts of other safety cases and things like that. So it was a good example where we’re trading off different impacts to different value sets.
[00:10:59] And then [00:11:00] since then, since that project I’ve largely gone into teaching, particularly teaching early career engineers, and I think. As I’ve done that I’ve seen that it’s not just early career engineers, there’s all sorts of layers of thinking where there’s opportunity to change the perspective or to give a better perspective or a broader perspective.
[00:11:18] So it’s been quite a journey, but it’s, I think That’s helped me realize there really is a gap here in the differences, in risk, at different levels and how to understand what people think it is now. And put a framework in place for something like that.
[00:11:31] Catherine: So you started off with mechanical engineering and have worked your way up through all sorts of aerospace and various other industries. is there something in that that has sort of guided you to think about things in a more holistic way because mechanical engineering can be quite reductionist and specific, but things like, you know, aerospace are incredibly transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, I’m wondering if that was what was attractive to you. To actually go into sort of a systems engineering approach from a mechanical engineering back
[00:11:56] Laurie: ground?
[00:11:57] Yeah so I wasn’t really, um a typical mechanical [00:12:00] engineer. So I was studying a lot of psychology and computer science at the same time as well So I was always interested in psychology has always fascinated me, but life sort of got in the way and I sort of, grabbed the mechanical degree and got out of it.
[00:12:12] But certainly there’s the systems perspective and other, yeah. So I did, uh, an amazing systems engineering project with Boeing. A very technically complex system with lots of , developing technology and things like that.
[00:12:24] So I think, I think it was pretty early in my career that I started, getting to the sort of broader multidisciplinary type of projects.
[00:12:32] Catherine: So could he give us a couple of examples of projects that we know that have succeeded that probably managed risk really well, and maybe some projects that started, but never happened because of risk?
[00:12:44] Laurie: So certainly the first project that I was ever on in my career that really opened my mind up to risk and values and ethics and trade offs or balancing the impacts across, different value sets. If you like was a, it was a [00:13:00] regional route project here in Queensland, and it was back when the cultural heritage, legislation had first come out, it was brand new and before that, so it was very much an unknown.
[00:13:10] And so we had the perfect storm where we had a mining company who wanted to, you know, have financial benefits from the new mine. So we had Queensland rail who was looking after the rail corridor, who had all sorts of objectives and reputational risks that they were dealing with. And we had all of these traditional owner groups who.
[00:13:27] you know, had, very much an interest in the cultural heritage and who had wanted to have a say in the project, we had legal representatives, we had archeologists and we had brand new legislation and it hadn’t been tested before. So there was a lot of confusion about how it was all going to work.
[00:13:42] There was a lot of time pressure on the project because the net present value was very much dependent on being delivered in time. And I was asked to develop the risk management plan And of course, as part of that process, this cultural heritage issue, veered up until this point, all of my risk management had been quantitative looking at schedule and cost [00:14:00] delay, those sorts of risks.
[00:14:01] So this was a very interesting experience for me. So we wound up going through a very complex, range of discussions and negotiations because, there was so much uncertainty, there was so much opportunism, there was so much misadvice and mistrust. It really did come down to that core, human communication aspect.
[00:14:18] So by having a very long series of dialogue, developing trust, particularly with the traditional owners and I was very fortunate because they seem to trust me a lot and I’ve developed rapport with them a lot, but there’d been a lot of, sort of mistrust from different legal representatives and things like that.
[00:14:33] So I had this most extraordinary. experience where we went through a six month development process for these cultural heritage management plans, which hadn’t been done, at the time with four different groups and each within those groups, they had all sorts of issues and complex as well.
[00:14:47] So it was just an amazing experience of navigating through very uncertain territory with very high stakes, developing trust with stakeholders in getting an outcome. That was a good for everybody, but certainly considering, the [00:15:00] social community needs, environmental needs because from an environmental perspective, it’s optimum.
[00:15:05] If the coal travels along a straight line, if there are part that doesn’t deviate too much yet we had to balance the needs and some of the special, cultural significance of the areas that was, uh, an extraordinary experience. And I find myself still reflecting on that project very often as an excellent example, where we had very diverse groups of people, all collaborating together to reach an outcome that was beneficial, holistically for everyone.
[00:15:29] Catherine: Yeah. it’s wonderful that we can have these sort of fulcrum projects. These game-changer projects. .
[00:15:34] Catherine: Part of me was wanting to ask you, you know, I mean, I’m sure your research may be looking into this as engineers and I’m a systems engineer personally. I’m an ecologist. So I see the world as a system. Mother nature doesn’t work in isolation, everything’s connected and everything has a system and everything has different values according to that. But as engineering has always traditionally been a very male dominated environment and therefore the quantitative, I think, has had some gender bias attached to it. And maybe the qualitative has had maybe a [00:16:00] gender biases and it’s more of a female thing to feel, or it’s more of a, you know, that sort of female energy versus male energy type conversation.
[00:16:06] Are you finding that some people really struggle with they’ve been very quantitative. They really struggled to value or understand the qualitative in terms of risk?
[00:16:15] Laurie: okay. So I think there’s a resistance. I haven’t seen the masculine sort of feminine side of it, or maybe I haven’t just seen that so much, but I think particularly the quantitative side tend to, if you have mastery of numbers and things like that, they might be a resistance to sort of go out of your comfort zone and have to think of other variables that you can’t measure, that you don’t know how to deal with.
[00:16:34] I think I’ve seen a little bit of that on the qualitative side as well. So I have seen a bit of a resistance to numerical methods and things like that. And I, I see tremendous value in bringing the two together and saying, well, you know, quantitative techniques, that’s just, a particular way that we try to understand nature and how things work.
[00:16:54] Qualitative techniques are trying to do the same thing, where things are a little bit more abstract. We may not be able [00:17:00] to quantify. It’s all trying to achieve the same thing we’re trying to bring them together. Under the same umbrella is, is one of the things that I believe in doing. And I think if it can be done particularly through frameworks and things like that, help people understand decisions, I think a lot of Very interesting discussions can happen. And, a lot of good outcomes can be realized for projects as well.
[00:17:19] Catherine: I’d really like your opinion from a risk management perspective around innovation. Right? Cause since 2015, we’ve had this big push for innovation, innovation, innovation, and yet it seems to have died a death somewhere between senior management and the board. Like, it just does not seem to permiate inside our company directorships or inside our, you know, our company boards.
[00:17:36] and I’m wondering if that’s because we can’t quantify the opportunity, from an innovation framework. And I’m therefore wondering if there’s a lever here to be pushed with risk around opportunity, cost of not innovating. And whether you think that might have influenced the outcome of some of the projects that you’ve worked
[00:17:51] Laurie: So that is definitely a factor. And that is, The issues that has motivated me a lot. So a lot of it that’s innovation piece in that board level [00:18:00] aspect that you speak about, I do believe, there may be a, there’s an opportunity to better understand risk and what is risk at board level?
[00:18:09] And this is part of the work that I’m doing is looking at risk, but also looking at, levels of work. So what does risk mean when you’re on a board and exactly what you’re getting to it means diversifying your risk, which means you make it less risky to do very innovative things that offer a high potential for a good return.
[00:18:26] It means you don’t have to worry about the loss so much effectively. And so if we can help boards understand what risk based thinking is at board level, that they can foster innovation by having this diversified mix of investments if you like, that means it’s okay to take lots of risky projects. You know, swings and roundabouts, you’re going to add better value by doing that.
[00:18:48] I think it’s a wonderful thing to do, particularly in light of things like climate change, because if we can encourage that topic of investment, it means novel technological based solutions instead of that are, that may be successful or [00:19:00] may can be more often implemented rather than a traditional way of doing things, which is very disruptive to the surrounding ecosystem.
[00:19:07] So supporting concrete, installing steel as the solution for every problem we have for, you know, traffic or whatever it is, for example, if we can be more open to innovative solutions means we can also reduce our footprint and learn more quickly as well.
[00:19:22] Catherine: I’d love to learn more and you don’t let me over talk on this. I just, cause I geek out on stuff. Right.
[00:19:26] Laurie: Well, no, it’s, I’m just so pleased. You’re such a geek on it. good
[00:19:30] Catherine: When we look in the face of the climate emergency, the idea of trying to predict risk management must seem like an impossible task because everything that we’ve based our lives on and our understandings on is going to change. And is changing at a pace at which we can’t even predict and it’s patchy in how it’s changing.
[00:19:46] And so part of me is trying to watch some of this from a governance perspective and a business perspective from watching what some of the key levers that are being pulled and pushed by the people that I think are actually the pseudo regulators, or the people that might act first. And that includes the [00:20:00] insurance companies.
[00:20:00] So Swiss re just today, have decided that they’re not going to back people who are bad for climate change. So climate change misbehaviors will not be reinsured by people like Swiss re when you look at this from a complex project environment and looking at some of the big projects that we’re going to have in Australia, especially the big infrastructure projects and some of the resources projects, where do you get excited and where maybe are you a little afeared of how do we actually start tangibly telling people how climate change is going to affect their business or their project
[00:20:31] when it still seems like such an, a theorial concept?
[00:20:34] Laurie: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And it’s one that I’ve sort of gone quite deep on lately. So the, the real opportunity is that you touched on there is around governance and helping people get the connection. So Good governance means just really good, transparent, independent decision making around a particularly large investments that have larger impacts to communities, larger impacts to the emissions and all of those sorts of things. And [00:21:00] so we have politicians obviously who are elected, who I’m sure go about their job with good intentions, but they not, may not necessarily have this, risk management capability or this holistical systems thinking.
[00:21:11] So they are in there because of all sorts of reasons that that may not fit that criteria. So we help each other. We help them and we help society by having independent governance arrangements in place that can check in and make sure that can do the analysis that can check the business cases that can look at the environmental, the social impacts as well as the economic impact.
[00:21:31] So for me raising the stakes in something like governance, which is another abstract word, like risk that a lot of people don’t understand that helping people see that that’s such an important pillar to achieving sustainability is a really important message to get out there. And very fortunately here in Australia, infrastructure, Australia, get that.
[00:21:50] And I’ve, puts some excellent, guidance papers out in recent times looking at sustainability or therefore principles of sustainability, which don’t just cover [00:22:00] environmental, social, and economic. They also put governance in there as one of the pillars, which I think is really much, much needed here in Australia at the moment, because some governments have been sort of pulling away from good governance and accountability.
[00:22:12] So we’ve had some issues here in Queensland recently in New South Wales, so I think getting that governance, understanding that governance is good for community. It’s good for politicians because it helps provide that extra assurance that we’re going to be making the right decision, give it decisions, given the complexity of things that we’re dealing with.
[00:22:30] Catherine: I could just geek out with you about this for hours, but let’s keep it on the topic, which is the PhD.
[00:22:35] So, how do you think your PhD, I’m going to ask you this cause you’re so early in your PhD, how do you think your PhD is going to change the world?
[00:22:43] Laurie: well I really hope I can get it right. So I think the economic model that the world is working to is just a massive pyramid scheme mistake. It’s a recipe for disaster. If there’s anything that I can do that can help us make, put [00:23:00] appropriate value on our natural resources on our future generations of human beings and even us getting better at being prepared to sacrifice a little bit of our standard of living and think more mindfully if the standard of living of future generations of human beings, as well as all of the other creatures are on this planet and our ecosystem. I think if there’s anything that I can do to help people see that, then I’d be thoroughly delighted. if that was one of the outcomes.
[00:23:26] Catherine: On ESG investing is a big thing now done. If you’ve heard of ESG. ESG. That’s where the money’s going and talking recently with my friend Sally-Ann Williams, who’s ex Google, who now runs Sicarda Innovations. It’s the deep tech innovation hub in Sydney. That’s funded by a number of different universities.
[00:23:41] And she and I were talking about this and she said, and it was in an article she wrote in the AFR this week, you know, first of all, you follow the investors, then you follow the consumers, then you follow the regular, you know, there’s a pathway here. You know, we, we lack investment, in many ways, in terms of with greater R and D, but terrible at the C when it comes to universities in Australia creating the [00:24:00] next unicorn, for example.
[00:24:01] So do you think some of that actually is down to a risk perspective that people see that we’re too small and we’re too far away from everything? Or is it that you think that Australian money feels like it should go off shore to become big, then come back all and you know, all fantastic and celebratory..
[00:24:15] Do you think there’s something in that?
[00:24:17] Laurie: I’m not sure that I understand it well enough to be honest, but I think, I think in Australia, we’re not really, culturally, we’re not as innovative as other countries. though, I’m not an expert in it. I suspect because we’re a very resource rich country. We don’t have to innovate. I believe people tend to innovate when there’s constraints put on us.
[00:24:35] And we’re just, we’re fat, dumb and happy. We, we have a very small population. We’ve got resources, abundance around us. which is why we have a mining industry that just digs it out from the ground And you you can have it and process it and make it more valuable. So generally possibly we’re a very resource rich country that really hasn’t been forced to innovate and optimize maybe as much as some other economies. And that kind of probably affects our culture and the [00:25:00] way, whereas a lot of people, aspired to join a mining company or do something like that rather than to, come up with the next Facebook or Google and things could be a little bit of that, but, I would really like to see that change particularly. We’re getting, the climate crisis, increase in global population, the risk of future pandemics, the risk of, a bit of civil unrest as climate change starts to come in some of the disadvantaged economies, some of the effect of this gonna have on the harmony and world peace and all of those sorts of things.
[00:25:27] I think there’s so much reason now for Australians, particularly Australian engineers to really get involved in innovation because there’s been no better time to come up with innovative solutions.
[00:25:38] Catherine: Yes the old adage, isn’t it? The, you know, the adversity is the mother of invention or something like that. As you were talking earlier, though, a quote from Marcus Aurelius sprang into my mind. So I’m wondering if you’re going to be familiar with this one, because we were talking about obstacles and blocks to risk management, because people are used to having it as a quantitative thing.
[00:25:53] So I’d like your opinion on this quote, please, Laurie, the mind adapts and converts to its own purposes, the [00:26:00] obstacle to our acting, the impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way
[00:26:08] Laurie: That’s fantastic. I have not heard that quote before, but I love it that’s articulated very well. What I was trying to say before. So when, you see something that is an obstacle or an obstacle to value being realized to see it as an opportunity to seek, to understand it better.
[00:26:23] And this is what the journey has been for me is to get better at the qualitative side, trying to elicit what’s going on. everyone has a different mental model to understand that, to help others, to be more successful than I’ve been some of these obstacles that I’ve met in my career, and to come up with a framework that makes it Easiest simpler, better to digest for other people.
[00:26:41] Catherine: Well, you’ve only just really taken off in terms of the rollercoaster ride, that is your PhD thesis, but do you have any particularly high moments or particularly difficult moments that you’ve had to overcome?
[00:26:52] Laurie: so yeah, so I think it’s been challenging for me getting clarity on what my goal is or what it, what it is. So it’s very. [00:27:00] easy Because I’m passionate about the topic. I see shiny things everywhere, and I think one of the best things that happened was COVID because, it became, like a reality TV show for me, like being interested in risk and I was completely mesmerized in it, but it also gave me new hope.
[00:27:18] It gave me a proof that we can change, that things can change and gave me a lot better clarity, particularly seeing, political latest. And I’m definitely not picking on political leaders, but seeing them with making the best with what skills they had and you know, some of the impacts that was causing for large numbers of people and things like that, just help me give me extra motivation and extra focus.
[00:27:42] looking at the levels of risk and the layers of risk and articulating that, identifying what people understand, which to be at all those levels was where the value is. And, COVID is just for me, it’s, you know, it’s almost just like a little test case for the real challenges that we’ve got coming up.
[00:27:56] So. Even though I, was slow. I kept [00:28:00] hitting dead ends and getting stuck and confused and things like that. It was kind of a blessing and the perfect time for that to happen to me, while COVID was unraveling, because it gave me a chance to see what was happening and get really clear on my own mind where the value proposition is, and then sort of slow down and understand that my weakness was qualitative research, how to do that in a really effective way, how to unpack
[00:28:22] how other people see risks that I can best put something out there that’s useful for people,
[00:28:26] Catherine: So, I mean, you’ve worked on some interesting projects over the last few years, I’m sure. Has that been a person that stood out for you? That’s been inspiring for you. That’s made you want to maybe look at doing this PhD. who’s kind of like a lighthouse to you in terms of wanting to formalize and put scientific method and rigor around some of these more elusive conversations around risk?
[00:28:46] Laurie: so to be honest, that there is no, not somebody that I can think of in the risk management area. that has been an inspiration for me. It’s more driven out of frustration or how to make it better. So I’ve, I’ve had a lot of [00:29:00] situations where, I’ve been in scenarios where I’ve seen a lot of damage done and value lost, and I haven’t been skillful enough to articulate, the reasons why, or what options might be available or what recommendation is and recognizing.
[00:29:13] And when that happens it means that’s where the value is. So at first it was something that was tremendously frustrating to me. That also will actually, that’s where the opportunity is because this isn’t just happening to me randomly. there’s a systemic issue here and there’s an opportunity to improve it.
[00:29:28] So I can’t, think of a, anybody in risk management who has inspired me in this area. So there’s some wonderful readings uh, so my first supervisor pointed me to the work of stratified systems theory by Elliot Jacques, which looks at, different levels of work and the way different people handle that, that has helped inspire me and helped me to better understand, human condition and the way that we think and do work.
[00:29:51] a lot of research that’s been done a long time ago, but there’s no individual in the risk management space who’s really inspired me. It’s more, well-being [00:30:00] very much something that I’ve seen is a valuable pursuit.
[00:30:02] Catherine: So people might be hearing you and I talk, and we’re both people that have got, you know, a good couple of decades of experience behind us in terms of the real world. and you’ve chosen to do your PhD now. If there was someone listening to this, that’s just itching at this idea that they wanted to deep dive into something, wanted to intellectualize, something wanted to change the world.
[00:30:20] wanting to change how we think and operate as a country and as a, as a global economy, what advice would you give them? If they were even vaguely considering a PhD?
[00:30:29] Laurie: So my main advice is make sure that you are doing it because it’s something that you care about and that you’re passionate about. So I think it’s something that you love and that you’re passionate about, and that’s important to you, then pursue it because it is, a significant commitment to make.
[00:30:43] But, if it’s, if you’ve got that passion, then that’s likely to help you overcome the obstacles. And, you know, as some of the ones that I was describing for myself, strengths and weaknesses, it will find your weaknesses, I think, going through that journey. So make sure it’s something that you care about so that you’ll have the resilience to ride over those bumps [00:31:00] along the way.
[00:31:00] Catherine: Yeah, certainly a metamorphosis, at least that was also my experience.
[00:31:03] Catherine: okay, so you finished your PhD. What next? What do you think will come after wards?
[00:31:08] Laurie: Well I imagine that we’ll be continuing on the journey, so it really that the PhD for me is one vehicle to help realize change in that area like I mentioned, I think The model that we’re all sort of, growing up and culturalized to this, economic model, the capitalist model of continuous growth, the limited resource that we have on the planet.
[00:31:26] It’s I think we need to rethink that. We need to start placing value on water. Start placing greater value on all of our natural resources and start placing greater value on future generations. Instead of, you know, we use discount rates. To diminish the impacts in future years, which very quickly become to minimal.
[00:31:43] you know, when we look at longterm medium term projects, so there’s all sorts of things that are completely dysfunctional, whether I’m doing that through a research project or through having a rant on a stage, having a rant through a podcast, all the, continuing this, because I can’t think about more [00:32:00] valuable contribution that I can make.
[00:32:02] Catherine: Yeah. And if people would like to learn more about ecosystem services and how economics is being applied to them, a really great place to look is the work of David Suzuki and how he actually applies, benefits transfer value to ecosystem services, and effectively, if we were to replace mother nature with a great big machine, we couldn’t, we don’t have the resources to do it, and we don’t have the money on the planet to do it either. So that just goes to show you that mother nature is the best engineer. And I would argue that one until I run out of breath.
[00:32:26] But Laurie, thank you so much for your time today. It’s so wonderful to geek out with you about risk and perception and society.
[00:32:32] And I really I’m so glad that you’re taking on this PhD because there’s something we definitely need frameworks for people to be able to refer to and use when they’re making decisions that are outside of their traditionally trained or educated brains, or they’re just lacking in their world experience.
[00:32:47] And the more we can do to assist people with, quantitative and qualitative based processes, then the better we’ll be. At least that’s what I’m thinking.
[00:32:57] Laurie: completely. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you, Catherine. Thank [00:33:00] you so much
[00:33:01] Catherine: And thank you for listening to another great episode of pitch your PhD. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. That was a cracker. Thank you, Lori. I’m Dr. Catherine Ball, and I especially want to thank the great team at Romilly media.
[00:33:25] If you’d like to speak about your PhD journey, you can reach out to. Ramaley.media forward slash pitch your PhD. Please join us next time. When we present you with another wonderful guest who will share their PhD journey past or present to help inspire the future. And hopefully you dear listener. Cheers for now.