Preparing for the Worst

The next disaster is inevitable. Will your organization be prepared?

Sept. 11. Hurricane Katrina. The 2004 tsunami. The Great Recession.

This decade has yielded some of the most dramatic and deadly disasters in recent history. While tragic, these cataclysmic events have also provided some benefit: They have prompted leaders, both in government and in business, to start thinking more seriously about how they can prepare for—and, hopefully, mitigate—the next major disaster.

“Since 9/11, the willingness of people to think in these terms has been significantly heightened,” said Michael Useem, Wharton professor of management and director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management.

It’s a promising trend. But Useem believes still deeper thinking about disasters, and more intense planning for them, is desperately needed. That’s why he and co-editor Howard Kunreuther, Wharton professor of Operations and Information Management and director of the Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, recently collaborated on Learning from Catastrophes: Strategies for Reaction and Response. Drawing on the expertise of leading thinkers from the world of risk management, the book teaches executives and other leaders how to systematically prepare their organizations for disasters, man-made or otherwise.

“So often we under-anticipate a range of catastrophes,” says Useem. “Thus we are underprepared for them and, as a result, are less than fully capable of managing in their aftermath. These are ‘unforced errors.’ And these unforced errors are subject to management intervention.”

The central premise of the book is that if organizations aren’t prepared for disasters, they’re significantly less likely to survive them. Useem believes that executives really understand the premise; he also understands that these leaders are confronted with dozens of other pressing issues on a daily basis, which is why risk management is not always at the top of their to-do list.

But as recent history has taught us, Useem says, it probably should be.

In fact, it needs to be.

“The challenge is to get people to remember and think about and face up to the reality of these low-likelihood but high consequence events,” he says. “And there’s no better way to get people [to understand the importance] of preparing themselves than by remembering what did happen, tangibly, in settings where people were not prepared.” – T.H.

Crossing the Energy Divide: Moving from Fossil Fuel Dependence to a Clean-Energy Future

By Robert U. Ayres and Edward H. Ayres

The world is facing two immense and intimately linked challenges: We must move away from fossil fuels and revive the global economy at the same time. If we continue our highly inefficient, dangerous energy usage, we’re headed straight for both economic and environmental catastrophe. However, the painful truth is that alternative fuels can’t fully replace fossil fuels for several decades.

What’s more, new research indicates that energy inefficiencies are retarding economic growth even more than most experts realized. Crossing the Energy Divide is about solving all these problems simultaneously. The authors show how massive improvements in energy efficiency can bolster the global economy until the time that clean renewables can fully take over, demonstrating how we can radically reform the way we manage our existing energy systems to double the amount of “energy service” we get from every drop of fossil fuel.

Social Networking for Business: Choosing the Right Tools and Resources to Fit Your Needs

By Rawn Shah

Today, organizations increasingly expect their social computing applications and communities to create meaningful, measurable business value. But that won’t happen by itself: It requires careful planning and active, intelligent management. In Social Networking for Business, Rawn Shah systematically covers all four key aspects of successful planning and management: people, place, purpose and production. You’ll discover how to successfully architect social environments and experiences; build participation, trust and reputation; empower participants without creating anarchy; identify the best social functions for your communities; use social computing to collaborate and create valuable new information; build a social culture; cost-effectively staff online communities; avoid pitfalls that lead to failure; even measure social capital and link it to financial results. Whether you’re a social computing strategist or an in-the trenches manager, chances are you’ve been on your own, until now. This book gives you the expert guidance and support you need every step of the way.