Predictable Surprises

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One of my favourite book titles of the last decade was this one: Predictable Surprises (by Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins – buy it at Amazon.co.uk). Released in 2004, it obviously looked back on the Twin Towers attacks in America and the business fallout thereafter, and asked “how predictable was that?” – and “what can we do to prevent being crippled by surprises in our businesses?” It is designed to help us see when we should be able to expect unpleasant surprises, and how to be organised to minimise them.

Here are some of the points made in the book:

What leads to unpleasant surprises in an organization:

1. Organization leaders know that a problem exists and that it will not solve itself.

2. Organizational members recognize that a problem is growing worse over time.


3. Fixing the problem involves significant costs in the present while delaying benefits.

4. Failing to address costs in the present leads to costs in the future that are uncertain and likely to be much larger.

5. Decision makers, organizations, and nations prefer to maintain the status quo.

6. A small minority benefits from inaction and intentionally subverts the potential beneficial actions of others for their own benefit.

Once a predictable surprise has occurred, creating a crisis, the organization should have an effective plan to respond. This plan should include the following steps:

1. Creat a representative set of planning scenarios to serve as a guide, including a broad range of potential emergency situations.

2. Develop preset response modules that leaders may draw from to create an effective combination of responses.

3. Link each planning scenario with a corresponding response module that can be immediately activated.

4. Outline a clear, designated chain of command. There should be no ambiguity about who is in charge in the event of a crisis.

5. Present signals to activate and coordinate the response modules in the event of a crisis.

6. Choose a location for a command post for the crisis-response team to use.

7. Keep communication channels clear.

8. Back up critical resources, such as power, gas, food and water, and medical resources.

9. Have a crisis-response team regularly conduct a preparedness exercise

10. Conduct a post-crisis review.

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0 thoughts on “Predictable Surprises”

  1. Michael watkins says:

    Thank you for you thoughtful review of our work. Best regards, Michael

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