Security Forward Workshop & Dinner - 21 January 2015

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Security Forward, Risk and Intelligence Forum’s October meeting was held at Z/Yen's offices in the City of London. To a full room, Martin Huddleston led with a talk on DSTL and APMG's Cyber Defence Capability Assessment Tool (CDCAT). Martin Huddleston is a specialist technical leader at DSTL, headquartered in Salisbury, England. His presentation led to a lively debate on the merits of various methodologies to cyber-risks.

Martin was followed by our ‘Speaker in Residence’, Lt Col Crispin Black, gave a presentation wittily entitled "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Predicting the Future … Accurately". Crispin attempted to grapple with a paradox that has become part of British life: how is it that members of our government and business elites seem incapable of swerving out of the way of seemingly obvious disasters? The Western military defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of a few thousand men equipped with Kalashnikovs and flip-flops, and the debauching of the UK’s leading retailer, Tesco, were the two examples he chose to highlight.

He identified nine themes behind these and other disasters:

  • Facts: much more difficult to establish than you might think – even when no one involved is actively trying to obscure the truth. He cited the military historian, Colonel Archibald Gracie’s, experience as a survivor of Titanic – he needed months of detective work to pin down the exact details of survivors’ stories.
  • Language: even languages closely related to our own, produced by cultures similar to ours, can be a barrier to understanding. Increasingly, elites now speak a private form of of our own language, English, that is of little use in forecasting the future.
  • Self-Hypnosis: a phenomenon identified by the Harvard historian, Barbara Tuchman, whereby a group of decision makers deny and distort reality to persuade themselves that a particular venture is going well rather than disastrously.
  • Face: often felt to be an Oriental or Asian vice but in fact alive and kicking in Western bureaucracies. Saving the face of political, military or business leaders has become a core activity of governance.
  • Audit: we seem to live in a fire and forget world where few like to have their decisions and their consequences examined forensically.
  • Deception: little awareness especially in government service that sometimes our opponents or enemies actively wish to seduce us into a course of action that will prove our undoing. What you see on the ground may not be reality but a giant ‘come hither’ sign.
  • Deformation Professionelle: many of our elites effectively live in mental ‘gated communities’ and cannot think beyond their own specialities.
  • The need for Diversity: used most often in Western public discourse in its racial or cultural sense. Rarely as a warning against closed thinking.
  • Macbeth Syndrome: The reluctance of decision makers to break off from an unfolding debacle – even when it has become obvious. As Macbeth famously put it to his charming consort: "I am in blood Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er."

After the presentations, the team moved to the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers for the traditional cocktail before dinner. Crispin chose a blue martini named a "Yale" as something that Professor Mainelli would have been unable to predict, nor order in the hallowed crimson halls of the Harvard Club, but could have as an Honorary Liveryman of the Furniture Makers.

Our dinner speaker, UCL Professor Adrian Furnham, gave a wonderfully incisive, yet easy-on-the-ear, and memorable talk around his new book with Ian MacRae, "High Potential: How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at Work". His psychological insights triggered a great discussion ranging from corruption to challenge in large organisations.

Our next meeting is planned for Thursday, 23 April 2015.