#1 The Uncertain is Certain

Fact: Someone always profits from a crisis.

Not to sound tasteless and insensitive, but the truth is that when the tsunami hit Aceh in 2006, somebody was doing business selling tents and other humanitarian supplies to the Red Cross and other Aid agencies. More recently, the BBC reports that the Fukushima tsunami has boosted sales of life vests (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-17410421).

In the same vein, 9/11 meant a boost in investment in security-related industries world-wide, and the impact of the current debt crisis in Europe and the recession in the US, is that investment and jobs are fleeing to the cities of emerging Asia.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with profiting from a crisis, as long as whoever profits also creates value – builds new capabilities, creates new jobs, invests in new products, services or infrastructure, strengthens branding, or simply saves lives.  The bureaucratic haggling in the aftermath of Katrina is an example of how the US Govt squandered an opportunity to create value.

Fact: Crises are becoming more frequent.

In scenario-planning, one is told to categorize trends that have an impact on one’s business or strategic goals by importance and predictability.  These “Driving Factors” are organized into a quadrant and those that are unimportant or predictable are discarded, leaving only the Uncertain and Important ones with which to craft scenarios.

Scenario-planning is frequently used for military purposes, which explains ex-US Defence Sec Donald Rumsfeld’s quip about “Unknown unknowns” that are beyond the space circumscribed by the Predictability-Importance Matrix.  Crises – such as the 9/11 attacks – were attributed / relegated (according to Mr Rumsfeld) to this “unknown-unknown” space and the explanation given was that – “since we don’t know about these, we couldn’t prepare for them.”

Well, my point is that these earth-shaking crises are becoming so frequent as to no longer be “unknown unknowns.” We now know, based on observation of this decade, that we can reasonably expect some form of disaster, natural, economic or political every year.  When the disaster will strike and how we will be impacted by it is still largely uncertain, but with tightly interlinked global logistics, trade, finance and social media networks, these events are no longer isolated ones and have global repercussions.

Crisis, I would think, fits squarely into the space of “Unpredictable and Important,” or even “Predictable and Important” – a driving factor to be anticipated and planned for.

Uncertainty is Opportunity

In a situation that is uncertain, events could unfold in multiple ways.  It is important to look long-term and plan for growth and development not just in the best-case or intermediate-case scenarios, but also in the worst-case scenarios, where the immediate response tends to be to minimize impact rather than stimulate growth.

If the Euro collapses, for example, how can the individual nation-states best leverage this to make lasting structural changes?  What new services / functions could the  European Union introduce to support its member states and to demonstrate its continued relevance?  Which of these could actually be introduced right now and which may prove useful should the crisis be averted later?

If there were to be a massive earthquake in California – long overdue – what are the new kinds of businesses, products and jobs/ capabilities that are needed for reconstruction. Can some of these be seeded now (taking the example of Fukushima and Katrina)?

Again, none of this is really new. It’s actually common sense (and at the core of scenario-planning). Unfortunately, we like to submit to the superstitious notion that just to plan for a crisis will somehow magically make it happen.  Or otherwise, any kind of planning for uncertainty is simply deprioritised against planning for a short-term windfall.

That’s just foolish.

80% of what makes a disaster truly disastrous these days is inadequate planning to exploit to the fullest, opportunity inherent in the many uncertain ways the almost-certain crisis could unfold.

Remember that Chaos Theory is not about Chaos at all, but about the Order inherent in an endlessly self-replicating and repeating phenomenon.  Since we know history repeats itself faster than ever, why not take advantage of this knowledge?

Thinking Fractally – Seeing the Order in Chaos

Blog link #1 : FRACTAL ONTOLOGY (www.fractalontology.wordpress.com)

Absolutely stunning blog on philosophy, science, politics, cybernetics, chaos.

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About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.

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