Risk Insider: Jack Hampton

Truthiness: The New Threshold of Reality

By: | February 28, 2017 • 3 min read
John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University and a former Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS). His recent book deals with risk management in higher education: "Culture, Intricacies, and Obsessions in Higher Education — Why Colleges and Universities are Struggling to Deliver the Goods." His website is www.jackhampton.com.

In 2016, the media reported that Ringling Brothers Circus ended its elephant show. Subsequently, it announced the Circus was closing down completely after more than 100 years in operation. Are these messages true? Who knows?

To understand what’s going on the world, we must confront new definitions of “truth.” Not serious, you say? Tell that to the editors of dictionaries.

“Truthiness” was Merriam Webster’s Word of the Year in 2006. It refers to a truth that won’t allow itself to be held back by evidence. We know truthiness intuitively “from the gut” or because it “feels right.” We completely ignore evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or contradictory information.

Post-truth was Oxford dictionary’s Word of the Year in 2016. It describes circumstances when appeals to emotion and personal belief shape public opinion despite sharply conflicting and largely accurate facts. Evidence is ignored as a message is accepted and repeated.

The concept of “truth” has been changing but it exploded during the 2016 presidential campaign. Umpteen candidates vied for attention in endless rude skirmishes that seized the attention of a widely-divided electorate: “The country is in serious trouble.” “The economy is in great shape.” “You are a crook.” “She is a liar.” “He is an idiot.” Who should we believe?

People play with facts. Are they lying?

PolitiFact.com, a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times, checks the “facts” in statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups. It proclaims itself to be a non-partisan effort.

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In the 2016 election campaign, PolitiFact graded the statements of Democratic and Republican candidates. It found dozens of questionable statements identified as mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, and pants-on-fire (my personal favorite).

The sad truth about politics is a person can get elected by appealing to sticky messages that have no substance. Truth is nowhere to be found because we ignore messages that conflict with what we believe. Don’t blame the media. The fault is ours. We believe what sounds good.

“A diamond is forever.” Does it really matter when our lifespan is 80 or so years, if we are lucky?

“Maxwell House: Good to the last drop.” Who drinks coffee to the last drop?

“BMW: The Ultimate Driving Machine.” What about Ferrari or Lamborghini?

People play with facts. Are they lying?

Advertising slogans are one thing. It is far more dangerous for us to be guided by false statements that win elections but do not address the risks we face solving real world problems. Does it hurt us when we cannot or do not separate truth from falsehood? When we try to manage the risks in our lives, shouldn’t we know the difference?

Remember the story of the six blind men touching different parts of an elephant and describing what it looked like. Everybody has an accurate picture of something but nobody grasps the concept of “elephant.”

Does anybody really care about the truth? Of course they do. Pick a version.

I want to go to the Ringling Brothers Circus next summer. Thanks to truthiness, I have that option. I am particularly looking forward to touching an elephant.

More from Risk & Insurance

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Risk Management

The Profession

This senior risk manager values his role in helping Varian Medical Systems support research and technologies in the fight against cancer.
By: | September 12, 2017 • 5 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

When I was 15 years old I had a summer job working for the city of Plentywood, mowing grass in the parks and ballfields, emptying garbage cans, hauling waste to the dump, painting crosswalk lines.  A great job for a teenager but I thought getting a college degree and working in an air-conditioned office would be a good plan long term.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

I was enrolled in the University of Montana as a general business student, and I wanted to declare a more specialized major during my sophomore year. I was working for my dad at his insurance agency over the summer, and taking new agent training coursework on property/casualty risks in my spare time, so I had an appreciation for insurance. My dad suggested I research risk management for a career, and I transferred sight unseen to the University of Georgia to enroll in their risk management program. I did an internship as a senior with the risk management department at Sulzer Medica, and they offered me a full time job.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

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We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks. If we initiate a collaborative exercise with the risk owners — people who may have unique knowledge about that particular risk — and include a cross section of people from other corporate functions, you can do an effective job of taking the risk apart to analyze it, figure out a way to manage that exposure, and then reap the upside benefits while reducing the downside exposure. That can be done with new products and new service offerings, when there isn’t coverage available for a risk. It’s asking, is there anything we can do to reduce the risk without transferring it?

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

Cyber liability. There’s so much at stake and the bad guys are getting more resourceful every day. At Varian, our first approach is to try to make our systems and products more resilient, so we’re trying to direct resources to preventing it from happening in the first place. It’s a huge reputation risk if one of our products or systems were compromised, so we want to avoid that at all costs.

We need to do a better job of saying yes. We tend to want to say no to many risks, but there are upside benefits to some risks.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?

I’ve worked with a number of great ones over the years. We’ve enjoyed a great property insurance relationship with Zurich. Their loss control services are very valuable to us. On the umbrella liability side, it’s been great partnering with companies like Swiss Re and Berkley Life Sciences because they’ve put in the time and effort to understand our unique risk exposures.

R&I: How much business do you do direct versus going through a broker?

One hundred percent through a broker. I view our broker as an extension of our risk management team. We benefit from each team member’s respective area of expertise and experience.

R&I: Is the contingent commission controversy overblown?

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I think so. The brokers were kind of villainized by Spitzer. I think it’s fair for brokers and insurers to make a reasonable profit, and if a portion of their profit came from contingent commissions, I’m fine with that. But I do appreciate the transparency and disclosure that came out as a result of the fiasco.

R&I: Are you optimistic about the US economy or pessimistic and why?

David Collins, Senior Manager, Risk Management, Varian Medical Systems Inc.

While we might be doing fine here in the U.S. from an economic perspective, the Middle East is a mess, and we’re living with nuclear threat from North Korea. But hope springs eternal, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m hoping saner minds prevail and our leaders throughout the world work together to make things better.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

My Dad got me started down the insurance and risk path. I’ve also been fortunate to work for or with a number of University of Georgia alumni who’ve been mentors for me. I’ve worked side by side with Karen Epermanis, Michael Rousseau, and Elisha Finney. And I’ve worked with Daniel Dean in his capacity as a broker.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

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Raising my kids. I have a 15-year-old and 12-year-old, and they’re making mom and dad proud of the people they’re turning into.

On a professional level, a recent one would be the creation and implementation of our global travel risk program, which was a combined effort between security, travel and risk functions.

We have a huge team of service personnel around the world, traveling to customer sites to do maintenance and repair. We needed a way to track, monitor and communicate with them. We may need to make security arrangements or vet their lodging in some circumstances.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

My 12-year-old son thought my job responsibilities could be summed up as a “professional worrier.” And that’s not too far off.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

Varian’s mission is to focus energy on saving lives. Proper administration of the risk function puts the company in a better position to financially support research that improves products and capabilities, helps to educate health care providers and support cancer care in general. It means more lives saved from a terrible disease. I’m proud to contribute toward that.

When you meet someone whose cancer has been successfully treated with one of our products, it’s a powerful reward.




Katie Siegel is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]