Being on the cutting edge of crisis management research

Mike LauderHugo Marynissen and Timothy Summers, who have a long term professional relationship as researchers in the field of risk and crisis management, have been working for several years on a theoretical concept they call Normal Chaos.

The researchers use the term Normal Chaos to describe circumstances where the cause-and-effect relationships embedded within the circumstances are too complex for us humans to truly understand. They indicate that such complex situations produce surprising and unexpected occurrences that negate our plans. Finding ourselves in such a complex situation we have to re-adjust continuously. Very few plans will be enacted as envisaged; instead they are constantly challenged by newly emerging situations.

Management actually spends its time adapting to changing circumstances

The implication of Normal Chaos for practice is that organisms need to make enough sense to continue functioning whether it reflects reality or not . This requires managers to take a pragmatic view of their situations and to be aware of the implications of the difference between the two. When adopting the Normal Chaos perspective we need to accept that our constructed processes are rarely optimal (we “muddle through” instead of “manage the situation”), our rationality is limited (we have a “bounded rationality”), the result achieved is rarely ideal (instead people “satisfice”) and we need to learn continuously through a process of “trial and error”. To do this means we need to maintain a capacity to react as circumstance change.

This radical new approach of looking at how we anticipate complexity was published in July 2017 in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management. The paper is available via an account on the Wiley Online Library.

Conference paper fully available

The three researchers used Normal Chaos to offer a fresh governance perspective and a “different lens” through which to examine organisations. They produced a paper that was selected and published for the EMS2017 Conference in Tampa, FL, which was unfortunately canceled due to hurricane Irma. This full publication is free for the public.

In the research Lauder, Marynissen and Summers were looking at both transactional and decision based elements of an organisation and constrained normal chaos with the perfect world paradigm. The perfect world paradigm forms the basis of management practices that assume that if the goal is clearly identified, a coherent plan is produced, the skills and resources needed are put in place, the people are properly trained and then every aspect is executed flawless then the desired outcome will be delivered. The Normal Chaos view holds that this approach is fundamentally flawed due to the phenomena of emergence that is a feature of complex systems.

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Meet the researchers

Dr. Mike Lauder has served over 20 years in the British Army. The majority of his military career he was active on explosive ordinance disposal work where good risk management became a personal issue. He experienced the practical issues of risk management and crisis planning where he based his academical research on. Mike has written the book It should never happen again in 2013 and his second book In pursuit of foresight was released in 2015.

Dr. Hugo Marynissen is co-founder and partner of PM where he puts crisis theory into practice. Hugo is professor and Academic Director of the first Belgian Executive PhD program which he set up at Antwerp Management School. In addition, he is the president of the CIP Institute, a think tank initiative that brings together scientists and practitioners to exchange and develop knowledge about Complex and Interactive Processes in the field of crisis.

Dr. Timothy Summers is an ethical hacker, author, frequent media commentator, TED speaker, consulted expert, and a professor within the iSchool at the University of Maryland College Park. Timothy is internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on how hackers think. As a trusted adviser and consultant to Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, and governments worldwide, he specializes in the scholarship and practice of hacker cognitive psychology (the hacking mindset) and the normal chaos paradigm, enabling him to advise organizations on handling uncertainty.

Stijn Pieters is a crisis strategist who specializes in risk and crisis management for companies and governments. He is co-founder and managing partner of PM and co-founder of the CIP Institute.