Distinguished Visitor Lecture at Kent

Nik Gowing, Visiting Professor at King’s College, the Department of War Studies and Nanyang Technological University Singapore, is our second guest in the Distinguished Visitor Lecture series and will present new research evidence from the past two years on why the top levels in government and corporates fail to anticipate and manage crises.

Why are leaders so out of step with those they represent, or who buy products from them? A proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events over the last two years starting with the Russian seizure of Crimea, the 60% crash in oil prices and Europe’s migration crises, has revealed a new fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leadership. What are the reasons? Using evidence collated from 2000 pages of transcripts from several hundred interviews BEFORE the Brexit vote and the political impact of Trump, Nik Gowing reveals why leaders to struggle to identify then adapt to the new, fast changing and ill-defined normal. Many confess privately to being unsighted and scared. The conformity which got them to the top disqualifies them from accepting the scale of new realities. And most remain in denial.

After the unexpected result of the Brexit referendum, many question the capacity and readiness of leading executives, public servants and politicians to think unthinkables before they happen. The old assumptions and norms underpinning decision-making can no longer assume to be fit for purpose. In a world where low growth seems to be the only certainty, many confess to being overwhelmed as they struggle to find new bearings.

The findings of Thinking the Unthinkable offer somber finding for current leaders and those who aspire to succeed them.

An interim summary and analysis of the new evidence is available at www.thinkunthinkable.org/report.