The Great Wake Up – Nik Gowing, co-author of Thinking the Unthinkable, explains why these findings should keep us all awake at night.
What if the very people we appoint – in business and government – to foresee, identify and handle the most unexpected, cataclysmic, and disruptive events, are shown to be perilously inadequate at the most critical of moments?
This is precisely the nightmare finding of research study: Thinking the Unthinkable – A New Imperative for Leadership in the Digital Age, co-authored by Visiting Professor at Kings College London, Nik Gowing.
The Great Wake Up
Setting the context for the Big Ideas Summit, and the C-Suite agenda more broadly, “Thinking the Unthinkable”, is the ‘Great Wake Up’ for leaders – current and future.
Speaking ahead of his appearance at Big Ideas Summit, Gowing explains a proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events has revealed dangerous fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leadership.
“From just the first weeks of 2014, a dramatic series of ‘strategic ruptures’ revealed the old assumptions for decision making and promotion to the top in public or corporate life were seriously wanting or worse, irrelevant,” explains Gowing.
The ‘unthinkable’ events Gowing refers to include critical moments such as: President Putin’s seizure of Crimea; the rise of the so-called Islamic state; the devastating outbreak of Ebola; the surge of refugees to Europe and the seemingly uncontrolled tumbling of the Chinese stock market.
None of these events had been seriously considered or tabled, let alone planned for by those at the highest levels of corporate or public leadership.
Failure in Leadership
And yet occur they did, one unthinkable event after another, sending shock waves reverberating around the globe and prompting concerns about the capabilities of those ‘in charge’ to foresee unthinkable events and handle their impact.
“The rate and scale of change is much faster than most are even prepared to concede or respond to. At the highest board and C-suite levels, leaders confess to often being overwhelmed,” says Gowing.
Recognising the strangeness of this new world, Gowing, alongside co-author, Chris Langdon, set out to understand why our leaders appeared to be in free fall at these most critical of moments. And finally, why it remains so difficult for leaders to think the ‘unthinkable’.
“The global pace of change is overcoming the capacity of national and international institutions”
– Chris Donnelly, Director, Institute for Statecraft
Gowing reflects: “What started as a modest research project 14 months ago has grown fast and exponentially into something far more substantive and deeply disturbing.”
Compiled through a series of over 60 one-to-one interviews with C-suite business leaders and top-level public servants, the findings of Thinking the Unthinkable reveal fragility at the uppermost levels of global leadership.
“Thinking the Unthinkable confirms the current cohort of top leaders feel overwhelmed and under equipped to understand and work with the enormity of ‘unthinkable events’ that are unfolding.”
A terrifying level of wilful blindness, or ‘executive myopia’, to see and contemplate even the possibility that unthinkables might happen, let alone prepare to respond to them, is perhaps the most alarming finding of the research.
During their candid interviews, Gowing reveals the majority of leaders agreed that the decision-making norms and behaviours which got them to the top in the first place, no longer suffice.
Gowing emphasises: “Leaders need to be liberated from that conformity which guaranteed their career progression. The challenge is how to achieve that.”
Why TTU is Must-Read for Procurement Leaders
There are three key reasons why TTU is a must-read for all leaders – current and future:
First, relevance: Unthinkable events are happening with greater frequency and our leaders are less and less well equipped to handle them.
Second, rigor: Thinking the Unthinkable could not be more disturbing but do not mistake its alarmism for a mere piece of ‘click bait’. Serving as unprecedented database for the private, the research provides in-depth views of some of the world’s most influential corporate and public sector leaders.
Third, impact: Just as it sets the agenda for conversations at Board-level, Thinking the Unthinkable will help guide the conversations for Big Ideas Summit and will underpin our challenge to all delegates: What are the ‘unthinkable’ challenges we face next, and what do they mean for our models of leadership?
To download the report and access additional content and context, visit the Thinking the Unthinkable website.
At the Big Ideas Summit on the 21st of April, Nik Gowing will challenge current procurement leaders to consider what their ‘unthinkable’ events are, and how they are planning to tackle them.
Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.