Foresight saga: Pursuing insight through chaos and disaster


Advances in Project Management Series

Dr. Mike Lauder

United Kingdom

My background is one of project planning. My training as an engineer, project manager and army officer made me conversant with the skills and practices associated with the science of planning. I liked nothing more than producing a detailed GANTT chart that took account of all the vagaries and uncertainties that might disrupt progress towards the successful completion of whatever task occupied my time. I knew about the ideas of robustness, resilience and agility but questioned their place within the pantheon of planning tools because I knew that, if the plan was good enough, these “add-ons” would not be required. How wrong I was!

For me the key turning point came when I tried to reconcile multiple texts of risk management. The texts, all written by serious academics and practitioners, seemed to contradict each other. How could this be? How had no-one else noticed this anomaly? I gave myself the task of understanding how the differences in these texts might be resolved. After several false starts I realised that these contradictions were caused by a difference in the assumptions underlying the way the world worked. It was these differences that caused the contradictions to arise. In due course, I identified that there were three parallel sets of assumptions (paradigms).

I have set out these paradigms in Table 1. The paradigms existed around the three main drivers of risk management: these being project management, process management and accident investigation. The project management paradigm seemed to be driven by the linear temporal nature of projects. The process management paradigm seemed to be driven by the circular nature of a repetitive process and the accident investigation paradigm seemed to be driven by an event at a point in time. After much debate, I labelled these paradigms as “Lines”, “Circles” and “Dots”. Again I now see that these initial labels were not quite right. Circle is only a circle if you look at a process head-on. If, however you take into account that processes happen over time (that is, look at it from the side), then a circle becomes a helix. This all goes to show how important it is to understand how (the way) you see somethings affects their shape.

For me, two important lessons arose from this experience. The first was to recognise how blinkered I had been in my view of the world; other views exist. The second is that these paradigms exist concurrently. In my previous writings I have explained this using the example of air operations from a naval carrier force. I showed how different people in different roles viewed the same events in terms of either the line, circle or dot paradigm. What was important about this is that each paradigm brings different, incompatible solutions to the same problem. This experience made me wonder what else was I wrong about.


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 About the Author

Dr Mike Lauder

United Kingdom




Dr Mike Lauder
MBE served as a Royal Engineer in the British Army for 25 years. On leaving the Army he continued to work on a wide range of projects until he started his doctorate in 2008. His doctoral thesis examined how we think about risk in our quest to develop foresight. His first book (“it should never happen again”) examined whether public inquires add to our understanding of risk taking. “In pursuit of foresight” is his second book. His research showed how many crises and accidents have their roots in those involved trying to manage a complex (chaotic) world using linear (cause-effect) based tools. His current work is the consideration of how we may develop more suitable tools to operate in a world where chaos is recognised as being normal.