Thursday, March 17, 2011

Japan and the need for Scenario Thinking

I am sitting listening to the radio about what is going on in Japan. There is much being said about how the government is not helping the local authorities around the nuclear power plant, how the American's are not playing a bigger role in providing food and other goods to stricken communities, and why there isn't a greater presence of the global nuclear power authorities housed in the UN.

And, there was one thing that each expert on the panel mentioned, the fact that there was no preparation for this scale of disaster. They said repeatedly that this "scenario" had not been thought of. This puzzles me in several ways - surely the global nuclear authorities would run a set of scenarios that would look at multiple environmental disasters - or was it just assumed that such a conflation of events would never happen? The American's obviously have no plans in place for helping Japan, or any other country that they have a large military presence in, for helping that country in the throws of a major catastrophe. And, there was obviously no plan within the Japanese government for a nuclear meltdown in a region that may not be accessible via road.

This event in Japan follows quickly on the heals of the series of North African revolutions. Again, here we see a bunch of events occur that no one had thought of, or had considered as within the realm of reality. We see this is in the failings of the American's to have any clear response to the revolutions - they failed to know where to stand with Mubarak, they have miss-stepped a couple times in Bahrain - between supporting the monarchy and now dealing with Saudi Arabia's military arrival.

All of these events over the past couple of months point to the need to fully explore multiple futures, and to take into consideration wild card futures (very unlikely) and other possibilities in a way that allows us to build resiliency into our system. The need to consider the range of unexpected events and the possibility of increasing convergence between environmental and human disasters - as our populations grow so will the devastation be increased.

At my company, Adaptive Edge <>, we work to provide this to companies and governments. We explore ways in which these entities can learn to adapt to unexpected events while helping to be part of the already existing shifts in our global political-economy. Ideas of involving stakeholders, engaging unexpected realties, and exploring the impact of already existing trends on our possible futures.

I think the big message here for people, governments and businesses, is that they need to prepare for multiple futures and possible scenarios of what could occur. Having those futures on their shelves with associated strategies is something that we all need - it is a way of being prepared, agile and resilient.

My prayers are with the people of Japan, New Zealand and North Africa as they all deal with the arrival of unexpected events and the sudden emergence of new futures - futures that many may not have ever thought possible.

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