A thought on ISRM's "Crisis 2030 - Are We ready?"

8th November 2019

Something profound is happening to our collective sense of time. We used to have a past (for certain – that’s what history tells us happened), a present (as slippery as an eel if you try to grasp it, but somehow we live in it) and a future (things that may happen to someone, someday). Is it too bold to say that right now we are beginning to experience our place in time very differently?

  • The past is of less and less direct value to us. So many of the conditions ‘then’ simply don’t pertain ‘now’. How many events have been described lately as ‘unprecedented’? Relying on what worked or made sense even a short time back may be a distraction from noticing what our current conditions actually demand.
  • The present feels more fluid and unstable. In our lives we are experiencing so much change at such speed and on so many levels, it’s not surprising that we can easily feel uncommonly anxious or rudderless.
  • The future is accelerating as it rushes towards us. The most obvious example is climate change, which has always been talked of as a threat awaiting us if we don’t change our ways. Climate scientist report their forecasts keep being overtaken by events. The climate threat is very obviously breaking over us in waves of increasing power.

If this picture is anywhere close to a shared reality within the ISRM community, then how do those of us interested in reducing collective danger talk about time horizons?

For me, 2030 is many worlds away. Too many for me to hope to engage fellow professionals in government or business. Any energy we might put into ‘preparing for 2030’ should, surely, be directed to preparing for the waves that will crash on our heads in 2020, hoping that what we learn from surfing through next year will help us cope with the even bigger waves of 2021.

I don’t suggest we abandon longer-range forecasting, risk mitigation and investment. But since any decision-maker with half an eye on the news has to be increasingly preoccupied with what is unfolding in the near term, the mind-space available for patient preparation for 2030 becomes vanishingly small. Too small for ISRM to pitch its fine tent, I would argue.

If I had to reduce to one sentence what I think those in the ISRM field can offer to the decision-makers leading complex human systems in November 2019, it would be something like this:

“Seek to befriend the complexity, speed and improbability that, in your gut, you know to be our new shared reality, for it is only through friendship that they will reveal their gifts.”

So – 2030? I look forward to meeting you when you actually arrive, but you are so far beyond my imagining today, all my attention is going to your slightly older siblings.

Maybe a convening title like “Becoming Effective in a Future of Crisis” speaks better to where and who we are??

Peter Willis, ISRM Fellow, Cape Town, South Africa