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Thinking differently - what's the 'new normal'?

A proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events over the past four 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. This is what top leaders have confided to this ongoing study.

Embrace the new normal

The Thinking the Unthinkable project is dynamic and ongoing. Its main finding is that the conformity which qualified most for the top executive jobs in many ways disqualifies them from understanding and embracing the scale and implications of the new normal of disruption and unthinkables.

There is also the new challenge from millennials and their disillusionment with corporate purpose and values. This includes confidence in government and the principles of good governance. This poses new uncertainties about succession and where the new cohort of future corporate executives and civil servants will come from.

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 from the turbulence in oil prices; and the new frailty of political stability as traditional parties are challenged by the new disruptive age of public disillusionment, digital empowerment, algorithms, artificial intelligence and an overall challenge to all that has been assumed to be sable and rules based.

And then there is US President Donald Trump with his unique approach to policy making and ‘draining the swamp’. Like the UK’s shock vote for Brexit, Trump’s unpredictable style of leadership confirms the impact of the new normal of unthinkables. Worryingly, other leaders around the world are watching. They ae wondering: can they use the same methods to govern? 

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 timescale.

Find your safe space

Solutions and answers need to be found and debated rapidly, especially in the areas of behaviour, culture and mindset. An important way to do that is to share experiences and perceptions in a safe space with your peers.

For multiple institutions, the threats are potentially existential. For governments there are issues to be debated on how to maintain governance and confidence in leadership because of the looming challenges from a society potentially destablised by the threats to traditional assumptions of jobs and wealth.

Nik will share the latest findings from several hundred hours of interviews and more than four thousand pages of transcripts after confidential meetings with CEOs, top civil servants and corporate chairpersons. They reveal their concerns at how their organisations handle the new disruption and uncertainty. Many confirm a high degree of anxiety and apprehension. Many also volunteer how scared and overwhelmed they are. Are you one of them?

Nik Gowing is the founder and co-author of the Thinking the Unthinkable research project (; he is also a journalist and keynote speaker at IIRSM’s conference on 24 May 2018: View the full programme here


About our keynote speaker

Nik Gowing’s presentation at our UK conference taking place on 24 May in London will help managers, leaders and others redefine the new approach needed.

A main news presenter for the BBC’s international 24-hour news channel BBC World News between 1996 and 2014, Nik presented The Hub with Nik Gowing, BBC World Debates, Dateline 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).

Hear from Nik and a fascinating range of other speakers at our annual conference, taking place at the historic Church House in Westminster, London.

Spaces are filling up fast so don’t miss out – book your place today at

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