The Coming World of Surprise


Even if I praise professionally the epistolary of anticipation, let's face the fact: our world is also made of surprises, some of them negative, some positive.  These events can be of all kinds:  Earthquake causing Fukushima accident, finding a true love, winning in Lotto.  But while we cannot predict them, we can tune our ourselves in and be ready when surprise occurs.

The point here is that as a part of increasing complexity of our environment, there are more and more those situations that come to us as surprise. So we better get used to it that surprises - sometimes small, other times big, just occur without us being able to foresee them. In the past few years, I have grown to realize there is a lot of interesting things to observe when contemplating what is really the nature of extreme events. To work more systematically with the topic, we have established  a network of research units around the world to explore further this world of surprises

In new Zealand, where Earthquakes -small and sometimes big -  are regular, they have thought about what makes an organisation -be it household or organisation of any kind -resilient for these sort of  surprises. They have found that there are 13 aspects or indicators for resilient organisation. These indicators can be grouped into three: Things that have to do with a) leadership and culture b) networks and c) the level of being ready for change.  Together they provide ability to survive in a crisis and - even more importantly -thrive in a uncertainty.

Mind you,  this is not only about the crisis management, but much more importantly about understanding how crisis turn into opportunities.  To cite my dear colleague John Casti, who has taken a lot of pains to understand the world of surprises, in 2030 Japan may think Fukushima accident - acknowledging the great human suffering it caused - was the best thing that has happened to them in those years because it pushed the society to rethink of their current practices.

As we gear ourselves towards the emerging Sixth wave , we shall run into world of ever more surprises. This brings about the fundamental managerial and strategic orientation towards resilience: it is not that surprises - sometimes rather nasty surprises - happen but the key is what are we doing about it? Sometimes these surprises come as a kind of "act of God", while other times the surprise is clearly of internal nature. Whatever it is, the same rule applies. You need to have three elements in place: somehow assimilate the shock instead of being overwhelmed, secondly, be agile enough as to recognize the new opportunities presented and finally adapt to those changed circumstances even if it hurts. And as always when something shocking  and surprising happens, you need to have a certain amount of transparency and openness in place: difficult situations have to be dealt with .

It is a lot to be asked but on the other hand, this is the best recipy not only for survival, but also for attaining success.

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