The Age of the Unthinkable

Read The Age of the Unthinkable over some travel. An interesting book; filled with anecdotal evidence. Those familiar with chaos theory and similar notions would find much of this familiar. The same principle (he uses the sandpile metaphor) applies to many of our domestic and international threats. They aren’t simple or predicable, nor are they likely to be prevented or overcome by traditional methods (we’re dealing with Unknown Unknowns here, to borrow a phrase). I’m with him that far.

What left me wondering was if his analysis was really radical enough. He notes for example, that even with training it is hard to get people to be able to adapt (he uses venture capitalists for his example here) and that even if a person of insight leads a government agency (say Israeli intelligence) the departure of that key person may result in the organization drifting back to old ways of thinking. Yet he seems at time to promote institutional and potentially bureaucratic solutions (e.g., national health care; though perhaps he isn’t committed to a specific model). It seems to me that identifying those with the gift of thinking unconventionally and anticipating the unexpected and giving them resources and authority to work on issues might be better – but I’m not sure how that would actually work. A more widely distributed model might work better, but I’m unclear if those who have held the decision making power and status for so long will be interested in giving it up.

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