Unconventional Crises, Unconventional Responses: Reforming Leadership in the Age of Catastrophic Crises and “Hyper complexity”

“Most “tabletop” simulation exercises follow a common pattern. Organizers prepare a detailed scenario ahead of the event. After its premises are laid out and participants set to work, new information is released on a regular basis, indicating developments brought about in part by the participants’ decisions. In their response, participants are expected to conform to a set plan, which the simulation aims to test and rehearse. Finally, a debriefing highlights and examines gaps between the posture and response adopted, and those expected by the organizers and called for by “the plan”.

The unconventional type of simulation that we organized, and which we had previously tested with much success, followed an entirely different pattern, as it aimed to train participants to react to the “unthinkable” through out-of-the-box initiatives. The exercise, then, focused on creative questioning, not on the strict observance of given scripts, rules and responses. Experience has shown that this type of preparation is a much more effective way to prevent future “failures of imagination, of initiative, of leadership” than is the traditional approach of testing expanded plans and pre-formatted responses even more comprehensively, when earlier plans and exercises have proven inadequate.”

Confronting unconventional crises requires not only unconventional modes of preparation, planning and response, but also (in the first place) unconventional and innovative analytical methods.

Most often, specialists and leaders are content with sharing and validating ad hoc, case-specific “best practices”, rather than developing a global analysis of the emerging challenges posed by catastrophic crises of all kinds. Furthermore, in spite of constant (and fashionable) calls for “returns of experience”, “benchmarking”, or the “sharing of best practices”, exceedingly few projects actually go beyond run-of-the-mill cataloguing of facts and professorial descriptions of “proven” (“sellable”?) methods.

In the same way, beyond fashionable slogans, genuine efforts to build bridges (other than one-way) among different outlooks remain few and far between. Most specialized events do not in fact enable a balanced dialogue among academics, experts, and operational leaders; among the public, private, and humanitarian sectors; and between continents. Symposia and conferences all too often merely juxtapose professorial interventions from “authoritative” experts whose viewpoints bounce off each other, rather than intermingle and cross-fertilize. This is certainly not conducive to shared innovation.

In this study Dr. Erwan Lagadec who is a SAIS Foreign Policy Institute Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations. The goal of the Center is to strengthen and reorient transatlantic relations to the dynamics of the globalizing world. More information can be found at http://transatlantic.sais-jhu.edu . In this study he and his colleagues have done a fantastic job at recognizing, identifying and exploring paradigm shifts and cultural changes needed to confront chaotic, non-linear, and hypercomplex situations. Presenting the notion of “Rapid Reflection Forces”: i.e. teams of experts “parallel” to the incident command center (yet enjoying immediate access to its leaders), tasked with taking a “step back” vis-à-vis the urgent requirements of crisis management, and adopting a different timeframe than the first responders, in order to think through strategic posture, anticipate unheeded obstacles, and advise leaders and first responders on these questions at each critical juncture in the response effort.

In any given crisis, these experts must especially clarify (1) what the essence of the problem is, (2) what the key traps to be wary of are, (3) what unconventional network of actors needs to be set up, and (4) what critical initiatives will put the response effort in the best possible posture early on.

Unconventional Crisis Unconventional Response: Reforming Leadership in the Age of Catastrophic Crises and “Hyper complexity” I have read twice and found it to be an outstanding resource for cops and those who respond to and deal with crisis situations. A shifting response plan that lay out response behaviors in the form of check lists and plans to one that identifies the resources necessary to deal with crisis and allows responders experience and knowhow meet the crisis at the ground level where the real problems manifest themselves. This leads to sound decision making through observation-orientation-decision and action cycles.

Read the full report here and I will post a more compressive 170 pages study “Leadership in Unconventional Crisis” an outstanding report, Dr. Lagadec and his colleagues have put together that all of us in the business of dealing with crisis should read. The information in both reports is well worth your time to read and digest. It takes a hell of a lot more than an ICS system and traditional leadership METHODS to deal with unconventional, complex crises. This report will give you some great ideas on how and why we need to better prepare. As this reports states: “This is a new kind of war! We are not ready for this!”