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New risk topography – let’s go beyond risk mapping and take action 

Earlier this year, the World Economic Forum published its Global Risks Report, prompting editorial comment in the latest edition of the CRJ. Here, Editorial Advisory Panel Member Patrick Lagadec looks at how senior leaders and their teams should act in the face of these risks. 

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Once again, the core group behind the Global Risks Report, and its networks of experts, must be praised for the wide-ranging analytical process that maps such a huge constellation of risks and their dynamic interactions, along with the effort devoted to clarifying sensitive policy issues, and the focus on emerging technological challenges.

However, the worry remains that this fantastic 12th report will find its way onto some organisations’ shelves, next to the previously published – and equally brilliant reports – where it will languish until it joined by the 13th brilliant report next year.

But all this prompts another discussion: Which questions remain to be asked? I will only pick up one in this blog: how will senior leaders and their teams in the public and the private sector act?

The challenge is impressive: those in charge will have to navigate unknown, volatile, fast mutating oceans; experts will be confronted with ignorance, not mere uncertainty; mega-shocks, mixing a wide variety of heterogeneous factors will be constant; deep surprise will be at every corner (see my piece titled Dark Dynamics, CRJ, 12:1, 2016, available to subscribers only).

Such a context lies outside our intellectual, managerial and leadership cognitive maps and strategic/operational abilities. Our risk control grammar and strategies are outflanked; our preparations and drills to risks and crises are outdated. Our systems are now flying outside of their flight envelope.

What’s more, in every single country, it is difficult – often nearly impossible – to mobilise leadership to address those wicked challenges, with the excuse of: “No time, no need, no money.” The usual response does not go beyond ‘crisis communication’, which is far from meeting the vital challenge (Patrick Lagadec, A logbook for chaotic times, CRJ, 12:3, 2016, avaiable to subscribers only).

We have to react, creatively – and there is no time to waste. If we do not, deep pitfalls lie ahead; through their avoidance of the issues, we will see people – and leaders – flee in despair, preferring a form of suicide instead of visionary combat. It is indeed already the case. And it is extremely serious. Phony wars only lay the ground for terrible defeats.

So let’s act and launch, at least in some advanced organisations:

Specific work with top executives to open routes and initiatives;
Specific work with a core group to prepare options and combinations of creative moves; and
Collective exercises to prepare people to face deep surprises and find positive opportunities.
This is not impossible. And experience proves that even small steps in the right direction can produce extraordinary positive leaps. Where there is a will, there is a way. 

Patrick Lagadec, 19/03/2018
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