Ensuring resilience

It’s been an emotional few months in the UK, specifically in London. Waking up to find news about tragedy, or to read texts from friends and family, checking that we’re all OK. Looking at my phone in the morning has developed a new sense of foreboding, making we take breath before I peek, and wonder like Schrödinger, if just leaving the box closed is the safest or most positive option.

While I feel unable to add to emotions already expressed, and unqualified to add views and opinions on ideological causes and resolutions, I can’t help but think about something I learned recently from the world of engineering, namely ‘Black Sky Hazards’ which to me are like advanced forms of defensive pessimism.

The particular Black Sky hazard that I learned about focused on “resilience of electricity infrastructure systems”, meaning, what happens to the electrical grid and infrastructure in the event of something really crazy happening. Not like an outage, or one substation having an accident or something, oh no, those are easy issues. Black Sky’s are like Black Swans and the polar opposite of Blue Skies, things that are more like sci-fi storylines or at a scale that’s almost unimaginable.

Massive and utterly destructive system wide hacks for example, or electromagnetic pulses (EMP’s), or even more coordinated physical terrorism, or even never before seen scales of environmental ‘attack’, from solar flares or freak storms that knock out and destroy more than one or two systems. Basically, hazards that have a super low probability of happening, but in the event of which, you have to have made some sort of preparation, meaning that you have to have imagined the worst.

While this sounds and feels pessimistic, there’s something I like about having a term for it like Black Sky. It reminds me of the project premortem idea, where you find a way for a team to productively imagine and prepare for things that could go wrong, without it being brushed to the side like a naysayer of health and safety. It’s just preparation. Essential and even potentially a competitive advantage if you think it through.

Here’s to more detailed planning then. Imagining Black Skies so that in the slim chance of something terrible happening, you’ll be ready, and glad that you were. Preemptive optimism, if you like.