As you know, ISO is on a worldwide campaign to convince everyone in the world that their dictionaries are wrong, and that risk can be positive. They are not confusing accidentally-beneficial side effects of risk as being positive, but saying outright that risk is a good thing. They were sold this nonsense by some batty Australians, and then cribbed some text from the Project Management Institute as well, to come to this baffling decision.
Now ISO is at it again, updating Annex L (formerly Annex SL) to ensure that the “risk is good” meme is further hardcoded. The switch from Annex SL to Annex L sounds like it was just a letter change, but it actually means the demands will not only apply to ISO standards, but also IEC standards from now on. IEC is apparently OK with this.
But internally, ISO totally knows they are selling an idea that makes no sense. Thanks to one hawkeyed Oxebridge reader, we uncovered ISO using the term “risk” in internal documents, but in a context that is purely negative. You know, the way every other human being on the planet uses it, when not selling seminars or books.
See this quote from Annex E of the latest edition of the ISO Consolidated Supplement, which includes the ISO procedures for its standards-writing Technical Committees (emphasis added)
Annex E (normative) General policy on the use of languages
E.1 Expressing and communicating ideas in an international environment
At the international level, it is common practice to publish deliverables in at least two languages. There are a number of reasons why it is advantageous to use two languages, for example… to ensure that international meetings will be as productive as possible, it is important for the agreements reached to be utterly devoid of ambiguity, and there has to be no risk that these agreements can be called back into question because of misunderstandings of a linguistic nature.
There’s clearly no other way to read the Consolidated Supplement’s Annex E text without interpreting that the word “risk” in this context is bad: ISO doesn’t want their products tossed out because of interpretation issues.
If the “ISO Consolidated Supplement” sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also where Annex L is housed, just a few pages later. The one that insists risk can be “either positive or negative.”
Later on, in Annex SM, the Consolidated Supplement contradicts itself yet again, reverting back to risk being purely negative (again, emphasis added):
SM.3.3 Preference shall be given to preparing performance rather than prescriptive standards.
ISO/IEC Directives, Part 2, clause 5.4 Performance principle (Excerpt) “Whenever possible, requirements shall be expressed in terms of performance rather than design or descriptive characteristics. This principle allows maximum freedom for technical development and reduces the risk of undesirable market impacts (e.g. restriction of innovative solutions).”
So ISO can’t even agree on what “risk” means in the single document that is supposed to define it!
It doesn’t stop there. In the May/June 2018 issue of ISO Focus, ISO’s house magazine, it ran an article which repeatedly used the word “risk” to represent the negative impact of climate change.
In ISO’s 2014 Annual Report, ISO discussed how risk is negative related to child safety accidents:
With more than 800 000 children dying needlessly each year from preventable injuries, ISO/IEC Guide 50:2014, Safety aspects – Guidelines for child safety in standards and other specifications, helps reduce the risks andbring those numbers down.
That very same Annual Report uses the term “risk” to refer to negative effects of uncertainty regarding workplace footwear and overall process design.
The more recent Annual Report from 2017 places “risk” and “opportunity” as opposites of each other, not co-equal peers as is being pushed by ISO’s inane “risk-based thinking” methodologies:
High-tech industries are transforming businesses, economies, jobs and even society and are expected to create up to USD 3.7 trillion in value by 2025, according to a recent World Economic Forum (WEF) white paper. This new era presents great opportunities but also new risks.
Ditto for its 2016 Annual Report:
ISO held its first insurance industry workshop in London to show how conformity assessment standards can help manage and reduce risk.
And this quote from the same report, which lists risks purely negative:
In today’s economy, services are becoming drivers of economic growth, but their rapid expansion carries many risks – lack of control, consumer exploitation, poor quality, inefficiency, questionable business practices and other obstacles for which International Standards can help.
In another critical internal ISO document, ISO/IEC Directives Part 2: Rules for the Structure and Drafting of International Standards, this also discusses avoiding risk, not embracing it:
As a general rule, references to particular pieces of text shall be used instead of repetition of the original source material, since such repetition involves the risk of error or inconsistency and increases the length of the document.
In a joint ISO/IEC presentation intended to minimize piracy of their standards, the two organizations clearly painted risk as negative:
[Copyright violation] also jeopardizes the standards themselves by putting them at risk of tampering and/or inadvertent modifications.
So ISO and its TMB will continue to struggle to define “risk” not because they are entirely incompetent — which they are — but primarily because they are dead-set on defining it in a way that defies the dictionary, logic, and thousands of years of oral human communication. Too proud to come down from their insanity, ISO will continue with their Orwellian tinkering of language, even as they can’t follow it themselves.
About Christopher Paris
Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001:2015. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.