Becoming future proof – how do you do that? Points of attention.

Author: Manu Steens

Inspired by ‘Ready or not’ by Tom Palmaerts.

‘Future proof’ also means being antifragile and resilient. Does resilience start with becoming future proof or is that just one of the entrances? I think it’s the latter.

What can we learn for Business Continuity Management (BCM), Risk Management (RM) and Crisis Management (CM) and on a personal level to become future proof?

The first thing, of course, is that we look into the future. We have to make time for that. If we don’t, we get too focused on what we already can. That produces a daily grind that stays present, giving rise to inefficiency. So variety is the key to adaptation. Further, variety of topics we focus on is also necessary because then we give our subconscious the chance to let a few 10,000ths of brain cells grind through on each of the problems.

However, care should be taken that it does not become too much so that you no longer dwell on a friend’s or acquaintance’s birthday than to send an emoji. The golden advice of Augustus (Ancient Rome) therefore remains valid: “festina lente” or make haste slowly. In fact, that was already an opinion that was close to Kahneman’s when he spoke about “Thinking Fast and Slow”: you have to go slower now and then, because quick decisions often do not survive a long-term vision.

So a right attitude is to embrace changes with slow thinking, which has everything to do with a first step: exploring those changes and the next step: anticipating changes, partly from gut feeling, partly from reason.

That’s why the advice is to stay focused, but in the right way: start with small things.

–         Check your e-mail only twice a day at fixed times.

–         Turn off your sound on your cell phone when you’re not on call. Don’t let yourself be disturbed, use the airplane mode of your smartphone if necessary.

–         Focus on one subject at a time in blocks of time, so that you can get into a ‘concentration flow’.

–         Change subjects regularly, so that your brain knows rest and continues to work subconsciously.

–         Decline meetings if they are not important.

–         Do creative brainstorms and group sessions regularly, at the time of the day when you are at your best.

In order to bring yourself to the best of your ability, there are also a few things you should take into account: you should explore the future from the best possible known and, above all, lived-through present. So:

–         Read a lot and regularly, and gain knowledge.

–         Love yourself.

–         Treat yourself to something tasty.

–         Use the gentle stimulus of calm music (for myself at least, for others it may be a bit rougher).

–         Use technology to support you.

–         Walk during the meetings.

–         Less coffee, more water, avoid sugar.

Second, we see that the masses choose a simple way out, even if it is wrong. Few choose to delve into the longer path that requires more discipline and patience. The masses know they are going wrong, but they don’t know either, because they don’t want to know. And before you know it, you’ll come across a Gray Rhino that is unavoidable. And that will happen again and again. In this way one learns more not from mistakes of the past than one does learn. And that has to do with brain economy. A one-off experience without great factual knowledge thus becomes a rule of thumb that one uses as a law of nature with absolute certainty. And the reason behind this is often ‘awareness of time’. Or the economical use of their personal time. As a result, many Americans stop by a store on their way to work to pick up a snack for breakfast, fueling obesity. And they know it.

From a time economy, we often choose the easy path at work. That feels safer, because it is familiar territory. It is not untrodden ground. And that goes well, until change is required. Then, of course, an unknown territory takes over, and it becomes more difficult for everybody to see, decide and act. This creates psychological resistance. One must therefore learn to experience overcoming a challenge as something delicious.

The reason why one should learn to enjoy being challenged is that one often gets into original situations, and therefore needs a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. This is the only way to push boundaries by alternately exerting and relaxing.

A realization that must penetrate to the core of the gut feeling is that what has previously been tried and failed, may now succeed if the system with which one works changes. After all, complex systems are systems that are time-dependent, in an unprecedented way. As a result, the system’s response to external influences cannot be predicted. Therefore, keep the sensors of your soul open for anticipation of changes in the situation, which is a complex system. Therefore, exploring futures is also useful. Adapt with further training, and think differently, for example from the point of view of scarcity. That could be sooner than you think. See also the UK after Brexit.

Subsequently, it is important to look for a tailor-made approach and solutions in an inspired way in crisis management and resilience management. A copy-paste of a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) from another organization does not work for your own organization and therefore does not add anything to your own resilience. The environment changes and everyone and everything is chasing the facts. So continuous adaptation and evolution is required. For organizations this means that the plans, the risk registers, the objectives must change. For people, this means sharpening skills and developing talents and competencies. For both, a vision of the future that is somehow correct is a must. Because one has to go to the core of the questions, the ‘5 x why technique’ is important to find the original causes.

Although it makes no sense to copy a plan from elsewhere, it is possible that inspired design makes sense. It can provide insights into one’s own situation from the situation of the other. That way an inspired version will be better than the original for your situation, even if it fails, because this is part of evolving.

In this way too, creating your own BCP, giving your own interpretation to the crisis teams, setting up your own risk management is innovation. Because it creates or contributes to value. But that cannot be done efficiently without learning from others

In addition, networking is also important because doing all that work without the internal and external customer and knowing the other stakeholders yields nothing useful. Or almost nothing.

So start from your sources, which you mix with the knowledge about your own current and future situations. Write down your own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and help build insight into your own situation from there. But always mention your sources, otherwise you will be stealing.

Reverse engineer your sources: see why they work for them, and apply similar reasoning to your own situation.

That way you build your own flexibility. You get it back in no time, because you already had it as a child. Ultimately, agility is innate. Some lose that and become dinos in the business. Others sometimes adapt. Still others are constantly adapting. The latter is what you need. That can go so far that you also have to change dreams and goals. However, that does not mean that you should unlearn acquired skills. Because many things come back cyclically in history and you don’t know which ones in advance. But ‘panta rei’, and so the needs of everything and everyone are constantly changing.

A point of attention here is that experts sometimes try to be able to do everything. That does not work. You have to be able to let go of things. Others can do some things better than you can. However, these are external factors on which you should let nothing depend, but to which you must adapt yourself and your organization. Preparation is therefore ‘key’ and also your own flexibility. Learn to adjust your wishes. Among other things, by continuously learning, or by being curious and by daring to change your opinion in a well-founded and motivated way. A ‘worst case scenario’ in a BCP can thus better become a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’. By adapting in a reasonable way to what you and your organization can handle. What is needed is:

–         Using an open attitude.

–         Trying to be ‘reasonably all-round’.

–         Use fast and slow thinking.

Extremely important are:

–         The use of a cultural empathy and being in / creating a multi-cultural environment.

–         Think about whether you can do it yourself before going to a consultant, because you always know your own needs better than they do.

This makes you more independent, self-steering and more flexible.

Most importantly, even if you evolve well to become future proof, you must always remain a freshman. In the sense that you regularly still practice. Otherwise ideas turn into sterile theory that everyone eventually distrusts, except those who are concerned with ‘conspiracy theories’. So take your time for theory, but also for practice. Take pleasure in both, come up with original things, and before you know it there will be another evolution. This requires interest, as the engine of lifelong learning. When is the best time to do that? When you feel the passion for it. For the content. Note: you don’t have to have a passion to do “something”, but to do “that”.

To further steer that in the right direction, you have to break through the bubble that you were taught in your upbringing. To see your blind spots in what you want to develop. Therefore: travel, do conferences, imagine your dreams, start a ‘secret’ talk club for extreme thoughts.

So: as said: passion comes first. You have to dream big, but start small. Step by step you move forward. Provide content first, look and feel after. Collaborate with competitors and see what you can create together. Go hang out with them. And put your passion to the test.

Besides all this that is based on good will, saying that there is a threat is usually meaningless. One must feel it. So creativity is needed to make this feel. This creativity must be stimulated from the youth years. A STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education should therefore also contain art. (Then it becomes STEAM) After all, design is necessary to establish a link between people and technology.

Thinking about the future should always be based on today’s reality. Otherwise it will not be accepted. That is why working step by step is also important here. A challenge for crisis teams is therefore the fact that risks sometimes seem to make leaps and bounds, because events can sometimes occur suddenly.

To think about the future from the present, with a multi-cultural and technical and scientific background, you should also visit other entities and other governments. Discuss with them their approach and point of view and your own.

However, to think diversely in a group, inclusion is needed. A good Cultural Quotient (CQ) (and culture-based empathy) and adaptability are required for this. Together you have more depth and therefore better insights into your own situation. A better 360° view. Without inclusion, it is just a check-the-box exercise for diversity policy. With a good CQ, look not only inwardly, into your own organization, but also at world developments, far and near from you. Look to the future and the past, to be and remain successful. A strong element in this can be creating your own knowledge-sharing network for people with common interests. A mindset to dare to take risks is essential here.

What must, as an example of daring, is to regularly (dare to) raise the bar. The crisis teams must be informed about the world. In addition, risk leadership is a means to this end. Everything must be openly discussed, hard for the results but with a heart for the people.

In line with this, it makes sense for each of the employees in the crisis teams to look daily at what they are grateful for that day, every day. This focuses on the positive, which increases resilience. Because gratitude, just like being flexible, leads to more happiness. And happiness is one of the most essential conditions for being future-proof.

Manu Steens

Manu works at the Flemish Government in risk management and Business Continuity Management. On this website, he shares his own opinions regarding these and related fields. Since 2012, he has been working at the Crisis Centre of the Flemish Government (CCVO), where he has progressed in BCM, risk management, and crisis management. Since August 2021, he has been a knowledge worker for the CCVO. As of January 2024, he works at the Department of Chancellery and Foreign Affairs of the Flemish Government. Here, he combines BCM, risk management, and crisis management to create a tailored form of resilience management to meet the needs of the Flemish Government.

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