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​​​​​​Thinking the Unthinkable by Nanyang Visiting Professor Nik Gowing

Published on: 11-Aug-2016


How can top leaders in C-suites and public service confronts the fast changing 'new normal' of unpalatable global leadership challenges?

Executive leadership at the highest levels of corporate, public service and political life faces new vulnerabilities that few in these positions are willing to share publicly. In 2016, they are greater than at any time in recent history, and the implications are deeply troubling. A proliferation of 'unthinkable' events over the previous two years has revealed a new fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leaderships. Their ability to spot, identify and handle unexpected, non-normative events is shown not just to be wanting but also perilously inadequate at critical moments. They threaten careers and reputations. They are potentially existential for both corporates and governments.

The examples of the 'new normal' keep stacking up. They include Brexit, the inadequate, belated handling of Europe's migration crisis; the implications for many energy producing nations and energy corporates after the unexpected 60% fall in oil prices; and the new frailty of political stability as traditional parties are challenged by the new disruptive age of digital empowerment, big data, meta data and public disillusionment. And who a few weeks ago would have raised the prospect of US President Donald Trump? Like Brexit, his impact confirms the impact of the new normal of unthinkables.

These challenges pose big questions about the appropriateness and configuration of the executive human capacity of those at the highest levels to both cope with - and respond to -this new proliferation of 'unthinkables'. New evidence confirms how pressures often overwhelm executive capacities at high speed, and in an ever more compressed time scale.

Solutions and answers need to be found rapidly, especially in the areas of Behavior, Culture and Mind Sets. An important way to do that is to share experiences and perceptions in a safe space with your peers.   

Date: 30 August 2016, Tuesday

Time: 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Venue: Lecture Theatre @ The ​Hive (LHS-01-04)

*There will be a tea reception after the lecture*




Nik Gowing profile.jpg

Nik Gowing was a main news presenter for the BBC's international 24-hour news channel BBC World News 1996-2014. He presented The Hub with Nik GowingBBC World DebatesDateline London, plus location coverage of major global stories.

For 18 years he worked at ITN where he was bureau chief in Rome and Warsaw, and Diplomatic Editor for Channel Four News (1988-1996). He has been a member of the councils of Chatham House (1998–2004), the Royal United Services Institute (2005–present), and the Overseas Development Institute (2007-2014), the board of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy including vice chair (1996-2005), and the advisory council at Wilton Park (1998-2012). In 1994 he was a fellow at the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center in the J. F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  He is a board member for the Hay Festival.

Nik has extensive reporting experience over three decades in diplomacy, defence and international security. He also has a much sought-after analytical expertise on the failures to manage information in the new transparent environments of conflicts, crises, emergencies and times of tension. His peer-reviewed study at Oxford University is "Skyful of Lies and Black Swans". It predicts and identifies the new vulnerability, fragility and brittleness of institutional power in the new all-pervasive public information space.  It can be downloaded free online after registration. The work follows an earlier study undertaken at the Kennedy School, Harvard.

In 2016 he co-authored interim findings of the "Thinking the Unthinkable" study. It is based on sixty top level confidential interviews of corporate and public service leaders, plus the new generation of millennials. The study is in partnership with CIMA. It reveals candidly the factors that explain why so many leaders face new difficulties identifying what looms in the disruptions of the "new normal" that have emerged since 2013. The findings are scary.

In 2014 Nik was appointed a Visiting Professor at Kings College, London in the School of Social Science and Public Policy. He is a member of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Geo-Economics.

He was awarded Honorary Doctorates by Exeter University in 2012 and Bristol University in 2015 for both his ongoing cutting edge analyses and distinguished career in international journalism.


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