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9/10/2012
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Great, Now We Have To Pee In The Boat

Spontaneous reactions can create unintended and costly compliance issues

Perhaps you know the old joke about the two thirsty fishermen, far out in the ocean in a small boat, who find a magic bottle. One of them naturally rubs the bottle, and out comes a genie offering them a single wish. Before they can discuss what they should ask for, one of the men quickly wishes the entire ocean were turned into beer. In an instant, the ocean became beer, and the genie was gone in a puff of smoke.

They sit staring at each other for a moment. The one who made the wish is grinning from ear to ear, basking in his great accomplishment of acquiring all the beer he could ever drink. Finally the one who had no say about the wish looks around, sighs, and says, "Great. Now we have to pee in the boat."

I find most organizations, just like the fishermen, put themselves in unpleasant situations, at least on occasion, as the result of spontaneous, unplanned actions. Likely there were no bodily functions involved, but many times the situation is something nearly as uncomfortable. Sometimes an initial action that seemed like a great idea at the time is executed without any serious consideration of its complete future impact. The cost of unintended consequences, even for well-intended actions, can be very high.

Many security and compliance issues are the result of ad hoc actions. In most cases, the original actions were well-meaning and on the surface seemed appropriate and maybe even necessary.

There are many clear examples, such as the network administrator who locks down firewalls to the point employees can’t get do their work and are forced to cheat the security. Perhaps it is the compliance officer who creates so many checks and balances that he has long forgotten what he is checking and balancing, but nonetheless creates endless, useless busy work for himself and his colleagues.

And we have all experienced the overly complex passwords, such as #E84ti~C0v, that are so inhuman we have to write them down, thus making them incredibly unsecure. These were all well-intended ideas that forced staff to essentially pee in the boat of their business’ compliance and security.

I realize not every decision requires a long evaluation and review cycle, which would be more paralyzing and dangerous than many quick-draw bad decisions. I suggest something we often say in our office: “The fastest way to do something is to do it right.” This usually requires a reasonable amount of forethought of eventual consequences. Any security or compliance personnel who can put some thought into their actions can help keep their business in great shape and moving along efficiently.

Glenn S. Phillips prefers that clients not have to pee in their boat. He is the president of Forte' Incorporated where he works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks within. Glenn is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.

Glenn works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand the often hidden risks awaiting them. The Founder and Sr. Consultant of Forte' Incorporated, Glenn and his team work with business leaders to support growth, increase profits, and address ... View Full Bio

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