“Pre-mortems” in crisis prevention

The Financial Times Weekend edition remains, at least for me, a thought-provoking tool. This weekend two interesting articles by Simon Kuper and John Thornhill both dealing in different ways with crisis. An unimanigable world and the importance of “pre-mortems”.

Technology as a crisis creator and solver

In his article titled “Today’s polycrisis might just bring polybenefits” Simon Kuper’s focuses on the role of technology in both creating and potentially solving crises. Crises accelerate innovation. Innovation will solve some of today’s problems. But it will create new ones. AI is advancing too fast even for specialists to keep track. The neural networks created are so vast there seem to be emerging capabilities we do not understand. What’s coming is unimaginable, for better or worse.

Hence, I would argue, we are moving beyond the “lack of imagination” so often mentioned in post-mortem crisis reports since 9/11 into the era of the “unimaginable” even if we were to make an effort to “imagine”.

A world too complex to understand

VR-based crisis simulations, decision-making under time constraints and potentially rethinking high-pressure, possibly life-on-Earth ending decisions are the focus of John Thornhill’s article “Fear and learning”. John is the FT’s innovation editor.

In the article John Thornhill quotes Moran Cerf, an Israeli neuroscientist, and professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northeastern University who on the topic of nuclear deterrence, central to the article, argues that humans are very bad at processing extreme risks, such as a nuclear war. “Our brains are good at living in the here and now. But it is difficult for our brains to contemplate catastrophe or high-risk and low-probability events”. Cerf’s conclusion is that we now live in a world that is far too complex for our brains to process. “Now that we live in an infinitely more sophisticated world, it is little wonder that our brains struggle to make the necessary connections or identify significant patterns”. Our brain tends to ignore low-probability events. The only way to overcome this is to “cheat the brain” argues Cerf.

Cerf also thinks key decision-makers should repeatedly practice emergency drills and analyze their responses to learn from mistakes. Sounds familiar? But goes a step further. He suggests decision-makers should conduct “pre-mortems”: imagining worst-case outcomes and then working backwards to see how they could be avoided.

Can “pre-mortems” help us prevent future unimaginable crises? Food for thought.

#innovation #learning #ai #crisismanagement

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