Author Archives: Philippe Silberzahn

Risk, Uncertainty and Black Swans: Theoretical Differences and Practical Implications

Every time Milo and I teach about how organizations can make sense of their environments, we are confronted with the difficulty of explaining why uncertainty is so different from risk and why understanding that difference matters to entrepreneurs and managers. In this article, we address those questions and discuss the practical implications that flow from them.

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Our new Forbes piece: Three reasons why Big Data doesn’t make you smarter — Lessons from the world of Intelligence

Our latest post on Forbes piece discusses why Big Data will not make you smarter and potentially can be dangerous. Read it here.

Meet us next week at SCIP in Orlando to talk about intelligence failure

We will be presenting our upcoming book, “Constructing Cassandra: Reframing intelligence failure at the CIA, 1947-2001” at the 28th Annual Strategic and Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) International Conference & Exhibition in Orlando (FL), USA. The conference runs from May 6th to 9th.

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Our new Forbes piece: Play it Like Steve Jobs-Three Questions for Business Leaders to Ask When Surprise Hits

Our latest post on Forbes proposes a simple framework for leaders to apply when confronted with a strategic surprise-That 3am call… In short, don’t rush into action, no matter how urgent things seem to be! Read the post here.

Previous Forbes pieces:

Analysis Paralysis: the Intelligence-Policy Divide, Revisited

The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 was released earlier this year (you can find it here).  In that context, it is worth mentioning an important point that Wikistrat‘s Thomas P.M. Barnett made earlier about previous NIC’s forecasts in his 2005 book, The Pentagon’s New Map.  Barnett’s key point in the book for our purposes is that the US Intelligence Community believes that it must only do analysis, and never engage in “advocacy” of any particular policy.  This epistemologically naive point of departure poses a number of problems.

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Our new Forbes piece: Lady Gaga World President by 2030? Why the forecasters so often get it wrong

Our latest post on Forbes is a reflection on the limits of forecasting after the publication of the National intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report is available here. In short, don’t predict, construct.

Previous Forbes pieces:

 

The Four Drivers of Geostrategy : 1) Demographic change

In a previous post, Milo argued that strategic thinking should begin at the level of Geostrategy (See Start with Geostrategy or call it tactics). Geostrategy looks at how geopolitical factors inform, constrain, and affect business over the long term.  For convenience, you can place these geopolitical drivers into four categories that interact, evolve and change over time:  Demographics, Geography, Technology, and Culture.  It is “climate change” at the level of these geopolitical drivers– and especially the interaction among them – that create the economic and political “weather” of your firm.  These are often same forces that fund managers harness to generate “alpha” for their funds.  It is at their level that true strategy begins.   In this post, we’ll look at the first one, Demographics.

The Foundations of Lasting Strategy

The Foundations of Lasting Strategy

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Is Your Company Heading For a Cuban Missile Crisis? Steps to Make Sure Big Data is Working For You, Not Against You

Big data evidence hiding in plain sight

The rise of big data – the ability to gather massive amounts of information about both environment and operations – rests on the assumption that having more data gives organizations better control and the ability to avoid nasty surprises. It doesn’t. To understand why, consider the Cuba missile crisis that started exactly 50 years ago today.

Read more on our latest Forbes piece here.

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Crafting Non Predictive Strategy, Part III: Acknowledge the Nature of the Problem

Despite formidable developments in business strategy over the last fifty years, organizations keep being disrupted by events they should have seen coming, but didn’t, or by events they saw coming but were unable to avoid or take advantage of. In 1971, NCR was surprised by the rapid rise of electronic cash registers and lost its leadership of the market. In 2007, Nokia was unable to react to the launch of the iPhone, an event the Finnish firm dismissed as minor, and is now struggling to survive. In 2011, the Arab uprising came as a complete surprise to everybody, not just business and governments but the people involved as well. And the list goes on:  if strategy is about addressing the key challenges an organization face, then the general lack of preparedness (if not prevention of) the economic and political crises that the world has been facing since 2008 is a massive failure of strategy. Hence it’s no surprise that in a survey conducted in 2011 by consulting firm Booz, fully 53% of senior executives did not think their company’s strategy would be successful. Houston, we have a problem…with strategy. Continue reading

Crafting Non-Predictive Strategy, Part II: Start with who you are

In the first part of this series, Milo and I examined the complexity of nonlinear environments and tried to show how, when confronted with such an environment, energy spent on a deep understanding of the present beats attempts at predicting the future.  Hence our call for a non-predictive approach to strategy.

Nonlinear systems can be found in nature, but they are particularly common and problematic when they involve human issues.  While such human nonlinear systems can display regularities over long time periods, most major political, economic and business issues are essentially nonlinear and permeated by social facts.  What such human-centered, nonlinear systems have in common but which is often overlooked is that one cannot deal with them as if they were natural science problems.  For one thing, and as we have argued in a recent Forbes article with the example of Usama bin Ladin, how you define the issue you’re dealing with depends on who you are.  This is also the reason that “genius” fails.

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