What's in store for us?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I am writing my own opinion, not that of any organization.

Recently there was a team building event for the organization I work for. On leaving the reception, a colleague asked if I knew about future crises that await us. Actually, the answer to that is: no. I don’t know that. Knowing about the future is pointless. After all, an Arabic proverb rightly says: “He who foretells the future is a liar. Even if he is right.” Doubting about a number of things, however, is another matter. And doubts can be well-founded. And it moves us forward to do this in a reasoned way.

So at that moment I spoke about what was on my mind. On issues for the future, based on uncertainties. These are:

  • Diseases
  • Famine
  • War

And separately: terror (recently there were statements by terrorist organizations to increase the number of attacks). Because while its urgency is enormous for the psychological effect it produces, its materiality is more limited than the other three.

  • Diseases can occur for various reasons. The climate can change in Western Europe in such a way that, for example, the tiger mosquito gets even more opportunities than it already has and, for example, brings Zika to us through the global supply chain. But diseases such as yellow fever and new variants of corona can also spread: through global tourism. Furthermore, migrants can also bring new, unknown variants of diseases that we naturally have, such as tuberculosis, to which our population has no resistance.
  • Famine was discussed much earlier by UN Secretary General Gutiérrez , who mentioned this issue. A possible cause for this is the drought, which in the long term could have a disastrous effect on the harvests in Western Europe. But also countries that close their borders for food exports, or can no longer export to our regions because of war such as the one in Ukraine. Whether a change of food source, such as switching to quinoa , will provide a solution remains to be seen. A change of diet, including more seaweed products, may be necessary, but the question is whether science and the food sector can react quickly enough to produce sufficient seaweed in a large number of varieties on a large scale. But the increased wealth in Eastern Europe can also play a role: will Polish and Hungarian drivers still want to drive in Western Europe to supply the supermarkets when they can earn the same amount by driving locally around their church tower in Eastern Europe? Even if the stocks in the countries in Western Europe were sufficient, the stores could not be supplied due to a problem of the supply chain.
  • War could be caused by water shortages in certain regions. These are so-called climate wars. But the war in Ukraine could also escalate. Or, with increasing political attention to problems close to home, terrorist conditions elsewhere could accelerate to such an extent that some countries think they must intervene militarily somewhere. And that in itself could cause terror in our regions. After all, there have already been statements from terrorist organizations that say that the war in Ukraine is an excellent situation to increase the number of terrorist attacks in the West. The question then is how efficiently the special forces of the police can continue to act under an increased workload due to a potentially increasing number of attacks.

These matters are uncertain, but they are already being discussed.

That means that through these uncertainties we have 23 = 8 possible futures. These are the possible combinations of famine or not, war or not, and disease or not.

If we limit ourselves to these three axes, we arrive at a 3-dimensional cube with 8 parts. By unraveling these, we come to the following conclusion:

  • In four of them there is war.
  • In four of them there is hunger.
  • In four of them there are diseases.
  • In one of them we have all three.
  • In one of them we have none of the three.
  • In three of them we have two out of three.
  • In three of them we only have one.

By raising these doubts, we are not pessimists, even if it seems so. It may allow us to look for possible indicators that tell us more about the direction(s) the world is heading in the short and medium term. We have to prepare for that. However, it is not getting any easier to determine good indicators in a fast-moving world, which are also timely enough to have predictive value.

Some questions we should ask ourselves are:

So what is the reasonable worst case for Business Continuity Management? What measures can we devise to be sufficiently resilient , without costing a fortune? Which measures cover several possible futures wholly or partly, so that strategic and especially in the global supply chain good decisions can be made?

How can we prepare and to what extent should we do that? When do they occur? How should we communicate about it? How do we break through the harmful law of psychology that states that what we are not used to is difficult to imagine, what we consider highly unlikely, and what we consider unlikely is considered to be negligible. What type of network leadership do we need? What is the role of who? Is it necessary to give everyone subsidiary decision-making rights? Or even decision-making obligations? How can we get people to develop sufficient trust in each other on such a scale? And how far does the geographical scope of the approach extend? Which partners do we want to involve, sectors, countries, continents…

But another question also arises: what is the chance that I have proximity bias in this reasoning because of the latest news reports? Or another kind of bias? According to recent studies in the UK, bias is said to be a pervasive problem. That thought also makes me insecure. There is work to be done. Perhaps for everyone.

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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