The ART Of Business

Volcanoes, Surprise, and the Illusion of Certainty

Let's be honest: who foresaw the impact Iceland's volcano would have on the supply chain. No one I know. I certainly didn't.

Last month, as Editor, I published a 476-page, two volume book set entitled Supply Chain Security: International Practices and Innovations in Moving Goods Safely and Efficiently.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, it is the most comprehensive work on supply chain security to date. Still, nowhere within those pages is the possibility of a volcanic eruption disrupting the global supply chain ever mentioned.

We like to believe that with all of our experience, knowledge, advanced risk assessment tools, and data collection techniques we can accurately predict the future. Nevertheless, we often get surprised.

Einstein warned about forecasting the future, "One need only think of the weather, in which case the prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible."

Surprise, when it comes at us, is most likely to be a knotty thing.

In business, surprise can include ignoring responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined that no one knows what to do.

Surprise can be more than simply the alarm that hasn't gone off, but the alarm that has gone off so often we don't hear it any more.

Surprise can be procrastination, but also a lack of clear organizational structure and understanding to move things forward.

Surprise can be the possibilities which occur to no one, but also those everyone assumes somebody else is handling.

How does your company deal with the inevitability of surprises?

TAGS: Supply Chain
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