Pretty much everywhere you read, look, or listen, stories of advancement are met with reasons to think the sky is falling. Internet security is full of holes, our financial infrastructure is prone to all kinds of data breaches, AI could be “summoning the demon” – the list is long and full of worry. Rather than adding to the dystopian sandwich board messages and fear mongering, we’d like to propose an alternative.
The apocalypse scenario doesn’t have to be the stuff of nightmares. Sometimes, facing the negative case head on is what it takes to lay the path to a truly innovative outcome.
Mind you, we are in no way advocating the Pollyanna mindset, “You see, when you’re hunting for the glad things, you sort of forget the other kind.” Prudent monitoring, back-ups, defensive measures are integral. We propose leveraging the negative case to consider known and alternative scenarios, uncover disruptors, and assert a fresh approach to achieving resiliency. In that way, what we propose is more like Bluto’s assertion, “Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is!”
The Shared Playing Field
Knowledge is our common global currency. Trading knowledge is our ‘stock exchange.’ It’s fast and virtually free flowing. And it is rife with the potential for disruption. Survival and resiliency mean innovating around all the potential disruption. We have to trade the current regimen of countering risk for a new approach. In other words, we have to stop thinking like the victim and start thinking like the adversary.
A look at the recent past and near future shows that companies in the technology industry are doing just this. The majority of market leading technology developments in 2016 could be classified as disruptive advances. Many are focused on providing an infrastructure for reframing the market for knowledge currency. Others are enablers and protectors built up to defend against cybersecurity issues that guarantee to attach themselves to every innovation like a parasite.
These developments further the argument that enterprises have to put the resources in place to prepare for threats they may not be able to pinpoint until an attack has happened. These structures and scenario planning are integral to becoming nimble enough to face and adapt to disruptions and risks as quickly as they become evident.
There’s an old adage, “forewarned is forearmed.” But as we know, crystal balls aren’t real, and extenuation isn’t always possible. As we look at the horizon, and the potential for storm clouds and silver linings, the question arises – while digital Armageddon may be unlikely, are our government and enterprise organizations absolutely prepared? Very likely not. But we believe it is possible to turn these risks into opportunities to build greater strength for the organizations and for the marketplace as a whole.
Through structured exercises like alternate futures or wargaming, organizations can delve deep into utopian and dystopian possibilities. Doing so allows entities to ask what if and why and how in a controlled, safe environment. They can extrapolate an issue or concept into a larger context, and begin to align systems and resources against known and potential positive and negative cases to better consider how to use their resources to build greater agility and resilience – should an occasion arise that demands an appropriate response.
The exercise also can generate positive systemic changes. For example, organizations that find evidence that they’ve suffered cyber attacks from insiders have the cause and understanding of the mind of the enemy to question and revise everything from the way HR functions, to how employees use shared networks, to the actual culture. Rather than focusing on doing hand to hand combat with the enemy, the attention is focused on the larger battlefront, the shared arsenal of weapons, and a catalog of possible moves and counterstrikes.
It’s been said that if you chase the loss, you’ll end up losing. If you spend your time building walls and moats, you can be sure the attackers won’t use a physical approach. They’ll find a new way. If we don’t limit our questions of what if and how to the familiar scenarios, we can think in a new way and begin to chase the opportunities tied to the challenges and threats.
It’s fine – even natural – to consider the possibility of things like a dystopian environment where machines take over and some self-propagating Internet virus takes economies down one by one. But then we have to stop and remember that we have reached this point because we are a collection of innovative, collaborative, visionary thinkers.
Prudence is required. We have to ask the right questions and try to posit answers for every one. There are questions that haven’t yet been asked. We have to find those scenarios and then consider every possible alternative. Embracing a wider way of thinking and a willingness to go deeper into the mind of the enemy is an opportunity to get smarter and more resilient.
Toffler Associates believes in the importance of standing in the future. We think that hope is quite possibly the strongest undercurrent of all of the disruptive innovation around us. We can help you leverage threats and dystopian possibilities to expose the silver lining for your organization’s future.
It’s time to ask a new set of questions and look for the silver lining in the dark cloud of digital Armageddon.
Dave Baber is trusted by senior leaders for his approach to leading organizations through transformational change. He brings expertise in strategic foresight, design, and risk management. A certified Project Manager Professional, he leads multifunctional teams focused on delivering the needs of his clients in government and commercial companies. Dave is a Veteran having served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and continues his service in the Army National Guard, currently assigned as a Brigade Operations Officer.
Toffler Associates is a future-focused strategic advisory firm. Our Future Proof® business consulting approach helps global leaders understand how future shifts impact current decisions so they can take advantage of opportunity, manage risk, and create future value.
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