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Why do we not listen?

Blog post   •   Feb 03, 2017 16:24 GMT

I am not obsessed with President Trump by any means, but at the moment, he is highly visible and there are lots of lessons to be learned from the situations he is creating.

Between winning the election and his inauguration, the news has been full of speculation about what sort of President he would be, and what his policies would be.

During his first two weeks as President we have found out exactly what his policies are: he has appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change sceptic, to be in charge of USA Environmental Protection Agency; he has given the go ahead to two stalled oil pipelines; he has stopped visitors travelling from a number of predominately Muslim countries and he has signed the executive order to build 'the wall'.

All of these policies should come as no surprise to anyone, as they were all themes of his campaign and were repeated over and over, that this is what he was going to do. So why were we surprised when he went ahead and did exactly what he said he was going to do?

I think as a society we construct in our minds a consensus model of the world and we struggle with events or incidents which challenge our model, and don’t conform to how we think the world should behave.

Our consensus model is arranged around a number of beliefs:

  • Climate change is real and we should do something about it
  • Globalisation and free trade create wealth and is good for all of us
  • Building walls are bad
  • Banning travel by certain groups, especially Muslims, is self-defeating and probably puts us more at risk
  • Politicians spin, but they do not tell outright untruths
  • What politicians say when campaigning and what they actually do when in power is substantially different as they realise the realities and difficulties in implementing their rhetoric
  • Alliances and closer economic, political and social integration are good
  • The world is getting better

Although this is not the consensus of all, it is a vision shared by many of those in power, and many of the middle and upper classes, worldwide.

When someone like Donald Trump comes along and challenges our orthodoxy, we think he is just ‘saying this’, he won’t actually do it, as we see his actions as contradicting our preconceived ideas of how the world behaves. We are then shocked and surprised to find that the world is changing and our views are no longer valid. We also find that there are large sections of society who reject and disagree with our consensus on the world, and vote for outcomes such as Trump or Brexit, which to us seem plain wrong.

So, what does this all mean to us in our business continuity role? In the words of the master and teacher in many a martial arts films, we have to “open our mind” and see the world as it is, rather than how we think it should be, especially from the view of our own preconceived ideas. I think the secret is to listen to what people are saying.

If a politician or leader says they are going to take what you see as extreme actions, don’t think that they will never do it, but make your plans as if they enact their plans. If you have a whistleblower or a member of the organization being vocal about a potential accident, flaw in the system or issue they have identified, listen to what they have to say and insist that they are given a hearing, and investigate the validity of what they are saying. It is very rare whenever there is an incident, to find that there was absolutely no warning at all. Most often, a number of people flagged it up as an issue, but they were not listened to. It is perhaps worth investigating ten non-events, than to miss one major event which could have been prevented.

The world is constantly changing and consensus come and go, but as business continuity people we must listen, listen, listen all the time. We need to bring to the attention of top management, the issues, risks and items which could potentially impact our organizations, which they have dismissed or not heard in the past.

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute, Director at PlanB Consulting and Director of Training at Business Continuity Training.

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