Organizational Development Consultant and Leadership Coach

Predictable Surprises

March 24, 2020

My colleague Bill Welter, owner of MindPrep Resource Center recently shared the six characteristics of predictable surprises, from the book Predictable Surprises: The Disasters You Should Have Seen Coming and How to Prevent ThemBazerman and Watkins, 2008.

They are:

1. That leaders knew a problem existed and that the problem would not solve itself.

2. Organizational members recognize that a problem is getting worse over time.

3. Fixing the problem would incur significant costs in the present, while the benefit of action would be delayed.

4. (related to 3) Addressing predictable surprises typically require incurring a certain cost, while the reward is avoiding a cost that is uncertain but likely to be much larger.

5. Decision-makers, organizations, and nations often fail to prepare for predictable surprises because of the natural human tendency to maintain the status quo.

6. A small vocal minority benefits from inaction and is motivated to subvert actions of leaders for their own private benefit.

Advice for organizations: “Scan the environment for information regarding threats, integrate that information from multiple sources, respond in a timely manner, observe the results of the response, and incorporate lessons learned.”


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