I was very interested to listen to a recent episode of The Bottom Line on Radio 4, on Dealing with Uncertainty. These kinds of discussions are necessarily high level, but are conducted with practitioners, so always offer a bit of colour with the insight.
One memorable thing for me was something said by Sandra Bell of Sungard Availability Services. This is a company whose purpose is to protect organisations in the face of uncertainty. She was asked if a lot of her work was just tickbox exercises for providing resilient systems. She said that she does have to make sure that some basics were in place, but that was only a first step.
She said the second step after the tickboxes for relilience is to ensure you have excellent relationships with your clients and suppliers. She went on to say that traditionally you’d have, say, six suppliers so you could drop one in case they fail. But the reality is they will do the same with you. Instead you need a symbiotic relationship, where both parties benefit from each others’ success and want to help the other avoid failure.
The importance of more meangingful relationships – as opposed to more obligatory or contractual ones – struck me as so clearly important to working with very uncertain situations. This is especially so when we start thinking about “unknown unknowns”. Humans are just so flexible and imaginative, if they are able and willing to step beyond rules then unexpected problems can be addressed with unexpected solutions. Tickbox exercises, risk lists, and the like don’t come anywhere near this.