Climate Change: Unknown Unknowns - Part 2

If we’re convinced that we “don’t know what we don’t know” about future climate challenges, then one question that pops up right away is: How can we get smarter about planning for resiliency in the face of unknown events?

 How do we go about planning for an unknown and possibly unknowable future?

How do we go about planning for an unknown and possibly unknowable future?

In an article last year in Harvard Business Review, “Simple Ways to Spot Unknown Unknowns,” Professor Dorie Clark (Duke/Fuqua) shared two ways we might go about it.

•1st method: Test for Implicit Assumptions by soliciting advice from unlikely sources that may see the problem in a different way. For example, she says, “If you’re working on an aerospace challenge, and you have 100 aerospace engineers working on it, the 101st aerospace engineer is not going to make that much of a difference. But if you add a biologist, or a nanotechnologist, or a musician, maybe now you will see something fundamentally different.” How many planning projects add “non-professionals” to the project team to gain these insights? Wouldn’t this be a valuable exercise? What if a health care facility planning team solicited patients and nurses to do the design instead of facility managers and (maybe) doctors? Wouldn’t the design work better for the front-line workers and the people getting the services?

•2nd Method: War-game your potential failures with a “pre-mortem” of your plans (what went wrong?, also known as “where could we f**k up?) We know that all designs will fail over time, some sooner than others. What if we could take our best designs/new product ideas and put them through enough simulations to discover where they might fail and then design better ways to get around or to mitigate the effects of potential failures? An obvious one for climate change along shorelines is trying to “fortify” the beach or to “fortify” the homes and structures through better building codes. Why not instead design a “core” community set back from the water and “disposable” housing and structures near the water? Why do we insist on being like King Canute and trying to show our (lack of) power by trying to hold back the incoming tide through force of will?