Only Humans have Ostrich Moments

Jun 23, 2022

The thought that the Covid pandemic came from a Chinese lab is a great and comforting theory.  Why? Because if it’s true then it’s someone else’s fault.  It’s not due to the way we, the human race, are destroying the world and letting a virus cross from animal to human – it’s just a bit of human-on-human aggression. Anything that means we might have to mend our ways is unwelcome – better to believe in some malign/careless Chinese scientist and ignore the real source of the problem.  After all, that works for ostriches.  But unfortunately, the mythical burying the head in the sand “ostrich moment” is really something that only humans do, Ostriches, after all, have been around on earth for 70 million years – they learnt that if a lion appears you either run away or charge it (they do that), they don’t pretend it’s not a lion, or that it will go away if you ignore it.

Look at the average risk register and it’s full of “cosy” risks.  Nice human risks.  Building B burns down – we can rebuild it, and, in the meantime, we have a great plan for dealing with whatever Building B stored or manufactured.  But what if the demise of Building B is due to an out of control, climate change induced, wildfire that swept across the state.  How can we plan for that?   It’s probably too difficult to think about. After all, most of those bad things never happen so why should we think about them. Who guessed Putin would invade?  Well, the Pentagon did, because it’s their job.  They collect data, analyse it, and run scenarios all the time.  Most of them never happen but when they do at least they have done the thinking.

@MargaretHeffernan in her book “Uncharted” gives probably the best definition of how to plan in a world that is increasingly complex and threatening “The best one can do is to identify a plausible variety of futures and interrogate them for implications and consequences” The new head of the British Army, General Sir Patrick Saunders, has said that British troops need to be ready to face Russia on the battlefield.  There is no doubt that that has come from scenario planning by the army.  As UK businesses launch another round of strategic planning this autumn I wonder how many are really looking at plausible futures or are simply tweaking the previous year’s business plan?