What's in store for us?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I am writing my own opinion, not that of any organization.

Recently there was a team building event for the organization I work for. On leaving the reception, a colleague asked if I knew about future crises that await us. Actually, the answer to that is: no. I don’t know that. Knowing about the future is pointless. After all, an Arabic proverb rightly says: “He who foretells the future is a liar. Even if he is right.” Doubting about a number of things, however, is another matter. And doubts can be well-founded. And it moves us forward to do this in a reasoned way.

So at that moment I spoke about what was on my mind. On issues for the future, based on uncertainties. These are:

  • Diseases
  • Famine
  • War

And separately: terror (recently there were statements by terrorist organizations to increase the number of attacks). Because while its urgency is enormous for the psychological effect it produces, its materiality is more limited than the other three.

  • Diseases can occur for various reasons. The climate can change in Western Europe in such a way that, for example, the tiger mosquito gets even more opportunities than it already has and, for example, brings Zika to us through the global supply chain. But diseases such as yellow fever and new variants of corona can also spread: through global tourism. Furthermore, migrants can also bring new, unknown variants of diseases that we naturally have, such as tuberculosis, to which our population has no resistance.
  • Famine was discussed much earlier by UN Secretary General Gutiérrez , who mentioned this issue. A possible cause for this is the drought, which in the long term could have a disastrous effect on the harvests in Western Europe. But also countries that close their borders for food exports, or can no longer export to our regions because of war such as the one in Ukraine. Whether a change of food source, such as switching to quinoa , will provide a solution remains to be seen. A change of diet, including more seaweed products, may be necessary, but the question is whether science and the food sector can react quickly enough to produce sufficient seaweed in a large number of varieties on a large scale. But the increased wealth in Eastern Europe can also play a role: will Polish and Hungarian drivers still want to drive in Western Europe to supply the supermarkets when they can earn the same amount by driving locally around their church tower in Eastern Europe? Even if the stocks in the countries in Western Europe were sufficient, the stores could not be supplied due to a problem of the supply chain.
  • War could be caused by water shortages in certain regions. These are so-called climate wars. But the war in Ukraine could also escalate. Or, with increasing political attention to problems close to home, terrorist conditions elsewhere could accelerate to such an extent that some countries think they must intervene militarily somewhere. And that in itself could cause terror in our regions. After all, there have already been statements from terrorist organizations that say that the war in Ukraine is an excellent situation to increase the number of terrorist attacks in the West. The question then is how efficiently the special forces of the police can continue to act under an increased workload due to a potentially increasing number of attacks.

These matters are uncertain, but they are already being discussed.

That means that through these uncertainties we have 23 = 8 possible futures. These are the possible combinations of famine or not, war or not, and disease or not.

If we limit ourselves to these three axes, we arrive at a 3-dimensional cube with 8 parts. By unraveling these, we come to the following conclusion:

  • In four of them there is war.
  • In four of them there is hunger.
  • In four of them there are diseases.
  • In one of them we have all three.
  • In one of them we have none of the three.
  • In three of them we have two out of three.
  • In three of them we only have one.

By raising these doubts, we are not pessimists, even if it seems so. It may allow us to look for possible indicators that tell us more about the direction(s) the world is heading in the short and medium term. We have to prepare for that. However, it is not getting any easier to determine good indicators in a fast-moving world, which are also timely enough to have predictive value.

Some questions we should ask ourselves are:

So what is the reasonable worst case for Business Continuity Management? What measures can we devise to be sufficiently resilient , without costing a fortune? Which measures cover several possible futures wholly or partly, so that strategic and especially in the global supply chain good decisions can be made?

How can we prepare and to what extent should we do that? When do they occur? How should we communicate about it? How do we break through the harmful law of psychology that states that what we are not used to is difficult to imagine, what we consider highly unlikely, and what we consider unlikely is considered to be negligible. What type of network leadership do we need? What is the role of who? Is it necessary to give everyone subsidiary decision-making rights? Or even decision-making obligations? How can we get people to develop sufficient trust in each other on such a scale? And how far does the geographical scope of the approach extend? Which partners do we want to involve, sectors, countries, continents…

But another question also arises: what is the chance that I have proximity bias in this reasoning because of the latest news reports? Or another kind of bias? According to recent studies in the UK, bias is said to be a pervasive problem. That thought also makes me insecure. There is work to be done. Perhaps for everyone.

Radical Redemption – What Terrorists Believe

Author: Beatrice De Graaf

What is it that terrorists believe? That is the key question that Beatrice De Graaf addresses in this work. With this work she lays a foundation for further approach and study of the phenomenon of terror.

First of all, the source material: the author obtained her data from direct conversations with (former) detainees, from legal writings and the like. From this she distills a ‘grounded theory’, namely the theory of radical redemption, which I try to briefly outline here.

There are a number of enabling conditions – a five-step process – that can play out very quickly as follows:

  1. A perceived deficiency in relation to an existing recognizable community and about an ethical program. For example, one interviewee talked about his personal luxuries while children were being killed in Syria.
  2. The deficiency is the starting point for a search for interpretation. This involves an interpretation framework of, for example, an extreme religion or ideology.
  3. The embrace and activation of one’s own role and responsibility to do something about that deficiency. This can range from sending clothes to Syria to wanting to become a fighter in Syria or Iraq for the Caliphate.
  4. The radical act of redemption and its fulfillment and redemption. Here, the presence of an existing, informal ethical program of ‘pure deeds’ directs the actions of radical redemption, and rewards them in anticipation. One can ‘earn points’.
  5. If the perpetrator does not die in his actions, a fifth step sometimes occurs: reflection and disillusionment. The Caliphate did not keep its promises.

The idea that stays with me is that the majority of the interviewees were actually looking for creative meaning with that redemption. And that sounds odd to me. Hence the beginning of the work caught my attention strongly. The author first indicates what normal people can understand by creative meaning. An example is that of a person who has been through a lot and decides to fill his existence with services to his fellow man. For example, helping the children of the neighbors with their studies and helping them with a diploma, which would have had little chance without any help.

Mutatis mutandis, (some of) these interviewees try to give meaning to a life that was going in the wrong direction. For example, someone who had set up illegal trade, or who kept his life empty with drug use. Yet one does not really speak of destructive meaning. In their eyes they started to kill two birds with one stone: to purify their own souls, by sacrificing themselves for a struggle with a noble, higher purpose. But a number of those who survived ended up in a disillusionment with the latter. The final battle did not come any closer. They did not like the behavior of Muslims who fought against Muslims,…

The latter, of course, in no way justify the deeds committed.

The advantage of the conducted study is that it provides hope for a number of ‘cases’. This can be done by encouraging sobering up where possible. After all, it appears that redemption cannot be achieved just like that if the supporters of the combatants do not give them support. Furthermore, it also helps if one’s own people, such as family and community, do not ‘drop’ them as scum but stay in touch with them to welcome them when they decide to return and face the reality they have created. So continue to be there for them, but not give support for their actions.

However, there are a number of preconditions.

There are limits to the number of interviewees. There are limits to the possibilities to view legal files. There are limits by GDPR. There are limits to the time within which a person can unravel a number of things. There are many questions that arise from this study that require further study. Do these five steps apply universally to all? Because there are many more types of terror than just religious terror. Paradoxically, because of the latter I am inclined to say: I hope that there will be insufficient material to allow this study to come to a conclusion.

Discussing the tragedy of the war

Author: Erik De Soir; photo by Karolien Coenen

For several weeks now, images of war have been a daily presence in our homes and we have been overwhelmed by the news of the fighting in Ukraine. It is not only war journalists and diplomats who are involved, but everyone is now a participant in the war that is taking place in Europe and threatening us all. Up to a few weeks ago, for most of us this was unthinkable! This war has generated a new influx of refugees and many of our fellow citizens are preparing to assist refugees and war victims once again and even take them into their homes. Many questions arise as to how to discuss the war with children.

Set out in the document below are ten practical tips on how to talk to people who have fled the war, left everything behind, and need to be accommodated in a foreign environment.

When are scenario thinking and future planning appropriate in risk management ?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I write my own opinion, not that of any organization.

On the one hand, we have risk management.

In risk management, it is common practice to translate a risk as a product of probability and impact.  The most well-known formula for measuring a risk is:

R = P * I

R is the measure of risk, P the measure of the probability of an undesirable event occurring and I its impact on achieving the objectives of the organization. Both are considered known.

Special attention in this article is paid to the situation in which there is a high degree of uncertainty with a risk. Unlike certainty, usually mathematically defined as a number between 0 and 1, or between 0% and 100%, uncertainty is rather something we feel but on which we cannot attach a clear mathematical definition that leans back on certainty. What we do know, however, is when the uncertainty is maximum for the occurrence of an event as a result of a cause. That is if the probability is 50%. Why? Because then the occurrence of the event is a coin on its side: you really do not know which way it will fall.

On the other hand, we have the combination of the future strategies with scenario thinking.

In itself, risk management is also a bit like thinking towards the future: if the probability is high, for example 95% chance of occurrence, then there is a relative high certainty of the occurrence of the impact. It is then, from risk management and in function of the impact, that one has to define and implement a measure. This allows the impact to be optimally prevented or mitigated (in the event of a threat) or provoked to the maximum (in the event of an opportunity).

However, the reasoning I want to make here is this one where the uncertainty is maximum. There it is therefore unclear whether the event will occur, or not. So a twofold future occurs: the event happens or does not happen. With this, a game of extremes occurs, for example:

  • Will it be war or peace?
  • Will healthcare become more preventive or more curative?
  • Will sufficient measures be taken in time for the climate or will it become an unbearable climate?
  • Will there be famine or abundance?

With such uncertainties one can consider these uncertainties in their own right, where one has two futures per uncertainty, or one can  express them per two against each other (if they are sufficiently independent), obtaining quadrants that represent four futures.

In theory one can work with n uncertainties, where one then obtains 2n futures but it becomes problematic, because already from n = 3 one has 8 futures, which becomes unworkable and also because in practice it  becomes more difficult to maintain the independence of these uncertainties.  And that is necessary to foresee extremely different futures.

For each of these futures, instead of directly defining measures, one can then start thinking about scenarios. This is a strategic choice, where one defines how one will act in a certain direction depending on which future becomes true. This instead of putting a single project or action in the pipeline because one has a strong expectation regarding whether (probability rather high) or not (probability rather low) the event with a specific impact will occur.

In order to be able to make the right choice, it is necessary to explore the evolution of the circumstances of the organization.  In other words, lowering the uncertainty about the knowledge of the future. To do that, one has a number of things that one can do.

  • The very first thing to do is to dare to question the assumptions. Are the assumptions that were made the good ones.
  • One determines the extreme futures, the scenarios, and whether one is ready for it, or whether, in contrast, one still has work to do. Usually it is the latter. To this end, one looks at which strategic option is most useful in which possible future. These options involve developing possible future projects or actions, and thoroughly considering their effects with a 360° view. As far as possible, tests or exercises are carried out to estimate the possible effects.  What are the shortcomings that need to be filled in?
  • Furthermore, there is the collection of the necessary information. One will define relevant parameters – indicators – and follow their trends. One determines in advance when one will decide on the basis of which (combination of) indicators which strategic options one will roll out. This is important, because being there in time and preparing for a future can determine whether one can get a  competitive or societal advantage from it or whether one is more likely to encounter a problem.
  • When the future unfolds, one deliberately monitors it, and consciously chooses the pre-agreed options tailored to the actual nuanced future. The timing of the decision and the roll-out of action plans is then crucial.

Conclusion:

Scenario thinking and future planning are relevant within risk management. However, one should have a good idea when this is the case. A rule of thumb is: do this with priority where the probability of an event with a certain impact is average.

Usually there are multiple risks with an average probability. Then give priority to risks with a high impact. After all, these give a more extreme course of the possible futures. As much as possible, make sure that you work with uncertainties that are maximally independent of each other if you plot them against each other.

However, if the impact is very large, and opportunities exist to influence the probabilities in your favor, do not fail to do so with common risk management strategies. “Choose your battles wisely.” After all, future planning and scenario thinking are especially useful when the internal and / or external environment of the organization are substantially uncertain. The choice to work on certainty, or to try to take advantage of uncertainty, is also a strategic choice in itself. And that depends on the capabilities of the organization. The internal environment can usually be influenced. Tinkering with the external environment is usually an impossible task. That is why this technique is also important when trying  to look at risk management objectively for the organization as part of the world.

170 pitfalls for ERM in Europe

Inspired by the book “Enterprise Risk Management in Europe”, Edited by Marco Maffeic

What is it about? It is about the implementation of ERM in organizations in Europe. This is accompanied by a number of obstacles. So there are pitfalls in the implementation of ERM in Europe.

The practice-oriented definition of risk management that is used is as follows:

“Risk management consists of active and intrusive processes that:

  • Are capable of challenging existing assumptions about the world within and outside the organization;
  • Communicate risk information with the use of distinct tools (such as risk maps, stress tests, and scenarios);
  • Collectively address gaps in the control of risks that other control functions (such as internal audit and other boundary controls) leave unaddressed; and in doing so
  • Complement – but do not displace – existing management control practices.”

This book does a study on that. Each of the first 13 chapters are about the situation in a country. This is followed by two reflective chapters about the countries. The countries concerned are: France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Finally, in a number of hierarchies, a summary is given in an academic way.

But what seems really important to me are the identified lessons from which insight comes into what can be the cause of ERM going wrong.

The identified lessons that tell why ERM can go wrong are listed in the accompanying excel sheet. This can be used as a kind of attention list for the (further) expansion of ERM.