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Reading recommendations on risk management: 4 books to add to your January reading list

Strategies for recognizing, prioritizing and mobilizing solutions for the risks you face in your organization

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This month marks the beginning of a year-long series where I will share my top risk management reading recommendations. These are the books I review regularly regarding the discipline of risk management and related issues. Each of these gives you hints on how to recognize, prioritize and mobilize solutions for the risks you face in your organization.

After I buy/obtain a book and start to read it, I always have a highlighter and pen alongside. I highlight items in the book I want to remember and make notes of my thoughts in the margin. I then turn back the corner on that page. This is a little more difficult with my iPad as I am a tech idiot, but I have figured out how to “bookmark” sentences and paragraphs for easier access after the initial reading of the work.

When I finish a great book with a lot of value, I put it on a shelf I have dedicated to books I really liked. At least annually, I review these books. Now, I don’t have to read the whole book, just the turned-back pages and read the “yellow” areas and the notes. Just a thought for you, but this technique has worked well for me.

Here are my book suggestions for January:

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Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What Can We Do About It

By Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik

Often I get a phone call or email asking, “Gordon, if there was one book you would recommend to get people thinking about risk management, what book would it be?”

For years I have told people that there are a bunch of great books on my reading list and I did not have a “favorite.” Well, guess what? “Meltdown” says it better than anything I have read on the topic of risk management. Fantastic content and the writing style is excellent.

The authors talk about tragedies in multiple disciplines (most of which were top news stories at the time of occurrence) and they brilliantly go “back in time” and point out all the “problems lying in wait.” More importantly, though, they pose some great strategies regarding how to get your people to recognize and address these problems proactively.

This is now my favorite book and I recommend it without reservation.

Bonus: Listen to author Chris Clearfield discuss how leaders can better solicit information to improve decision-making:

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen

By Dan Heath

What an exciting read this book was. Dan Heath is a brilliant writer – and while I have not yet read his other books – I will now.

The examples he uses to show the benefit of “working upstream” are simply fantastic – and he ties his thoughts together to show the reader how many simple things can be done proactively to fix problems before they occur.

My takeaway thought from this book was this one-liner about trying your “ideas” to see if they work: “Macro starts with micro.” Try your ideas on a small group prior to trying to fix the big group. I know you will enjoy his work.

Bonus: Listen to author Dan Heath discuss his upstream heroes:

Warnings Unheeded: Twin Tragedies at Fairchild Air Force Base

By Andy Brown

If you have been to any of my live programs over the last 15 years I have been telling people about the tragedy known as Czar 52. This terrible tragedy involving a B-52 in 1994 is chronicled in great detail in Dr. Tony Kern’s great work, “Darker Shades of Blue: The Rogue Pilot.”

Recently an attendee at one of my programs told me about a book by Andy Brown in which he again covers the Czar 52 tragedy, but also covers a different event that occurred four days prior to the B-52 crash. That incident involved a mentally disturbed former airman who traveled to Fairchild Air Force Base to kill the doctors who had tried to help him and Andy Brown stopped the killer.

While the stories are tragic, the book is a well-written work again proving that when we ignore problems lying in wait we ultimately have a terrible tragedy.

Bonus: Listen to an excerpt from “Warnings Unheeded” below and then read 10 lessons from the Fairfield AFB Shooting.

Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

By Safi Bahcall

The title caught my eye for a reason. If you ever visit my home office you will see a beautiful jade sculpture – and you guessed correctly – of a loon. Mrs. G bought this for me in Lake Louise many, many years ago. Over the years I have learned (surreptitiously) that I have been referred to as “a loon.” “Gordon is a nice guy, but what a loon. He is really out there.” When I saw “Loonshots” in my search for books on risk management I absolutely had to buy it and I was not disappointed.

The author cleverly identifies “loons” in various industries who were laughed at because of their crazy ideas – and yet those “ideas” ended up being brilliant strategies for success. Some of the stories you will be familiar with – some not – but it is a fun read with lots of historical information that filled in a lot of blanks for me.

Bonus: Listen to author Safi Bahcall discuss how great ideas get widely dismissed as too crazy to ever succeed:

That’s it for this month. Let me know what you think of these books and share your leadership and risk management reading recommendations. Email

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.