Planning for the Unexpected
| Paul Wolfowitz, Kristin Rivera
, and Glenn Ware
paint a stark picture of organizational and institutional blindness to asymmetric threats: crises that get amplified by additional factors, like escape routes being blocked in antural disasters:
Most catastrophes have some asymmetric aspect. The devastation rarely happens the way people think it will: It isn’t possible to keep track of all the factors or anticipate how they will combine. With destructive wildfires, for example, factors such as wind velocity, the materials of the underbrush, and the temperature at night interact in ways that physicists don’t fully understand, and that make the blaze unpredictable. In other natural disasters, escape routes can be unexpectedly blocked — as they were during the eruption of the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in May 2018. Even in deliberately generated threats, such as some of the cyber-attacks of early 2018, there are surprises. Millions of home Wi-Fi routers in the U.S. and Europe were targeted, a move that wasn’t widely anticipated.
While 73 percent of CEOs expect to be hit by a crisis in the next three years,
Yet for all the time and money spent on crisis prevention, companies and communities are still regularly blindsided by terrible events that somehow slip through the cracks.
The authors argue for a resilient, agile approach to the unexpected:
Even though the precise time, place, form, and effects of these events can’t be foreseen, such events can be better prepared for. This requires a fundamental mind shift from a focus on battling specific threats to a threat-agnostic approach. When you take this approach, you focus on what might be called meta-readiness: preparing your own innate ability to handle any type of crisis that emerges. You develop the ability to judge when a crisis is imminent; to respond to it swiftly and effectively; to receive and send critical information at the speed of business relevance; and to take whatever actions are required in the moment — with flexibility and the kind of organizational muscle memory that comes from multiple rehearsals.
In short, you build up your capabilities to manage the chaos that follows any large-scale upheaval.