What do Bill Gates and Otto Habsburg have in common?

In 2015 – 5 years before the covid pandemic – Bill Gates gave a Tedtalk that was watched by 2.5 million people. He argued that the next disaster that would result in millions of deaths would likely be a highly infectious airway infection. Ten years earlier than that, Otto Habsburg, the late son of the last Austro-Hungarian emperor, argued that Vladimir Putin’s aggressive national socialistic expansionist politics would be the biggest threat to world peace. He labeled Russia the last colonial power. You could conclude that the world is an unpredictable place, but personally I would draw a different conclusion. The examples are plenty. For instance, 9/11, the financial crisis, Brexit, the Arab Spring, the covid pandemic, or the war in Ukraine; they all are prime examples of predicated surprises. Looking further down the line, you might want to already list extreme weather, food crises, cyber wars, social instability, extreme scarcities, stagflation, and – why not – a new pandemic that combines the communicability of covid with the lethality of ebola.

The misconception about resiliency

Fueled by the war in Ukraine, resiliency is high on many organizations’ agenda. Many executives we talk to complain about how they once again have taken by surprise. “Biden even warned us explicitly!” Most of them regarded the US president’s warning of an imminent war mostly as a negotiation tactic and not as an indicator of a real threat to at least a stable access to resources, let alone world peace. The bad news is that indeed many of them did not consider the implications of a war in Ukraine in time. The good news is that it’s not too late to deal with this. In fact, the importance of timely recognition of predicted surprises is often overestimated. Continuous thinking about their implications in a structured and uninhibited fashion is much more important. We have seen many examples of organizations that identified the possibility of risks like Brexit or even a pandemic well in advance. However, the same organizations were hardly able to consider the consequences of such a risk and proved unable to organize themselves to optimally seize the associated opportunities or fend off the risks these events presented. In other words, resiliency is not all about predicting events or risks but rather about anticipating their consequences and organizing accordingly. In this paper we would like to provide leaders some insights and advise on how to increase their organizations’ resiliency in light of conflicts or events like the war in Ukraine. We will first discuss some ways in which you can anticipate predictable/predicted surprises. Then we will provide some ideas on how to organize accordingly.

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