Coffee with Swan today. What came up was the challenge of framing the ‘value’ of foresight thinking in organisations where managers already think they are pretty sh*t hot in forecasting the future.
I remembered back to my own early days in the field and for me how the terrible events of September 11 2001 seemed to create a ‘crack’ in the conventional thinking around me and how for the next 2-3 years raising the motif of ‘remember September 11’ opened up otherwise closed minds for the briefest of times.
What occurs to me now is based the hindsight and with the work of Philip Tetlock. The typical senior manager hedgehog type that Swan and I encountered is just so confident they know what has happened and what is going to happen because their combination of the past data they remember and their confirmation bias makes their ‘big idea’ just seem bullet-proof to them. And so when we talk our schtick abut the future “could be different” they give us that smile that says “yeah, sure”.
And yet I also suspect that even hedgehogs have a fear they keep well hidden from public view. And that is the fear they could be shown to be wrong. Other hedgehogs have crashed and burned before (ouch – mixed metaphor there – beware the burning and falling hedgehog) and so might they. Instead they put that little fear to one side and ride their big idea all they way to the senior executive floor. But the little fear comes with them, like their shadow. And that’s what gives us an in.
When something like a September 11 or a Trump presidency happens then burning hedgehogs start falling all around us. This is noticed by the presently non-combustive hedgehogs that we meet and if we can get our message on track with their fear then we suddenly seem like someone they would like to hear more from. They think we might take away the fear of being wrong; make them a perfect hedgehog. Well we cannot do that but that false notion might get us an audience to start talking about the value we bring.
And if the Trump event happens and suddenly the hedgehogs around you have some space in their diary for you then what do you say and how do you say it? Well that is something for you to work out and for how you want to position yourself. But I would suggest to you that take some time to study that uber-Fox, Nicholas Taleb, and read The Black Swan and study how he uses polemic and the failure of ‘other’ hedgehogs to get his message across. His is a very attractive blend of intellect, insult and competition. While its not a style for everyone it is one that does go down well in very competitive corporate environments. You don’t insult them directly, instead you show how others burst into flames (and they know that could be their fate too), and you use that to show how an intelligent hedgehog would go about avoiding conflagration as well. And it is fun to do too as well (Bad CF there!).