A Key Lesson That We Need to Keep Learning Again and Again
I’m publishing this series of articles to share and discuss my ruminations on coping with a troubled and messy world. You can “follow” me to never miss an article.
An Op-Ed in The New York Times[i] acknowledges what the field of Crisis Management recognized from its very beginning. Namely that all crises are interconnected[ii]. In short, there are no such things as separate, standalone crises. Each crisis is part and parcel of a system of other crises. At the very least, just by occurring together, they multiply the damage than if they had happened separately and independently.
Thus, as the Op-Ed notes, the Coronavirus Pandemic is approaching its third year. At the same time, the war in Ukraine is threatening to go nuclear. Extreme Climate Events are affecting the entire on world. Inflation is at rates not seen in decades. And perhaps worst of all, Authoritarianism is on the rise everywhere. It’s especially fundamental to the agenda of far too many Conservatives.
Again, while none of the above are strictly the cause of one another, their occurring at the same time makes their impact even greater. The metaphor of a Perfect Storm fits perfectly.
As the writers astutely observe, a big part of the problem — read Crisis — is that those who study Risks are embedded in Silos. They thereby study different kinds of Risks independently of one another. As a result, they don’t consider, and thereby don’t study, what happens when different Risks occur simultaneously.
As the writers also note, while specialists in Climate Change know something about how it adversely affects Economic Inequality, they know very little about how it impacts Ideological Extremists, if they even think about it at all.
To counter this, the writers propose Global Consortiums to study the mechanisms responsible for Systemic Risks which occur simultaneously.
While I basically agree, something more is needed. Fundamental change is required throughout our entire Educational System. Starting in Elementary School, Systems Thinking needs to be a basic part of the Curricula. True, it would not be at the same level for children in the first years of School, but even there, the idea can be broached with simple examples. Don’t tell me we can’t be creative enough to find ways to teach it.
As I’ve written on countless occasions, we don’t live in a world of independent actions and forces, if we ever truly did. It’s just more critical than ever that we not only embrace Systems Thinking, but practice it rigorously.
[i] Thomas Homer-Dixon and Johan Rockstrom, “What Happens When Crises Collide?,” The New York Times, Sunday, November 20, 2022, P. SR 5.
[ii] Ian I Mitroff and Ralph H Kilmann, Corporate Tragedies: Product Tampering, Sabotage, and Other Catastrophes, Prager, New York, 1984.
Ian I. Mitroff is credited as being one of the principal founders of the modern field of Crisis Management. He has a BS, MS, and a PhD in Engineering and the Philosophy of Social Systems Science from UC Berkeley. He Is Professor Emeritus from the Marshall School of Business and the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Currently, he is a Senior Research Affiliate in the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, UC Berkeley. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Management. He has published 41 books. His latest is: The Socially Responsible Organization: Lessons from Covid, Springer, New York, 2022.