«Pervasive uncertainty» requires a paradigm shift.

If you are interested in crisis management, historical parallelism, the fallout of the Russia-Ukraine war, and what is currently happening in the global economy this is a must-read article. Keeping in mind crises are never the same the article offers some valuable reflections on «pervasive uncertainty». I particularly liked Martin Wolf’s characterization of what he experienced in the 1970s:

“pervasive uncertainty: we did not have any idea what would happen next”. 

Martin Wolf

Carbon paper and what happens next

According to Wikipedia “The advent of word-processing and the decline of typewriting meant that any number of copies of a document could be printed on demand, and the decline of carbon paper, which had already been partially superseded by photocopying and carbonless copy paper, became irrevocable.” But what if all of a sudden copiers, computers, printers, tablets, and smartphones were no longer available due to an extended power outage?

Semper paratus

We take it for granted that electricity is always available, yet the current environment makes continuous power outages a real possibility. Not only because of the war between Russia and Ukraine and the resulting gas supply problems but also and perhaps especially because of climate change.

In fact, much of the power grid in different countries around the world has not been designed with extreme weather conditions in mind, which cannot only compromise distribution but also not be able to sustain peaks in demand they were not originally planned for. Just think of the extraordinary heat waves that are now regularly affecting different parts of the world and the consequent use of air conditioners not only to cool people but especially the ICT equipment we now so much depend on.

Preparing for an event that is widely predicted and whose prodromes, or faint signs, are clearly visible is always a good idea.

Stress tests

Returning to carbon paper and thinking of what happens next, according to another recent article by the FT, Great Britain is thinking about how to keep government offices and ministries running in the event of prolonged power outages.

Stress tests of the system date back to 2021 before the war in Ukraine and are regularly conducted every four months to ensure, according to government sources, «an appropriate level of risk management and preparedness.» Tests have taken on a new level of urgency in light of the war.

So what solutions have been identified considering that without computers, a country’s governmental machine grinds to a halt? We do not really know except that «carbon paper» was rediscovered with the thought of using it to share communications between offices and departments.

I imagine that alongside carbon paper, old Olivetti typewriters and ink ribbons were also rediscovered in some storage facility. No doubt about the functionality of the former a few questions remain unanswered (at least for the reader) about which companies still produce the much-needed ink ribbons.

But asking that question already makes it possible to figure out where to source them today, considering that in case of a blackout it would not be possible to manufacture them. This is the logic of anticipation, a fundamental principle of crisis management.

Ignoring the gray elephant

Her Majesty’s Government said the exercise ensures that the various offices are able to respond effectively to «a wide range of extreme scenarios» regardless of their likelihood of occurrence.

Preparedness, anticipation, and pervasive uncertainty. Ignoring the gray elephant is never a good idea.

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