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  • Writer's picturePaul

Warning signs are not just for the road

Updated: Jan 30, 2019


Video Length: 10:19 min

One of the best books published in recent years is "Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes" written by two former U.S. National Security Advisors. The book relates to several true case studies where credible subject matter experts warned of pending disasters using relevant information, but were ignored by the decision makers. The end result was that the disaster struck just as predicted. The authors called these seers, "Cassandras" after the Greek mythological figure who could foretell disaster but was cursed to never be believed. The authors developed a method to separate accurate predictions of danger from inaccurate doomsayers, calling it "The Cassandra Co-Efficient." They shine a light on experts who are warning of upcoming disasters from artificial intelligence, bio-hacking, mutating viruses, and more.

Description & Discussion:

The importance of the Cassandra Coefficient and its four components cannot be underestimated. Resources, money and people need to be allocated correctly and the unforeseen threat assessed based upon the evidence, the environment and the opportunity. A possible Cassandra worth looking have repeated characteristics we must focus on:

The warning itself: is it outlandish? Is it the first time anyone has warned about something like this happening, (i.e. Initial Occurrence Syndrome), is it too much for people to wrap their head around (magnitude overload) etc? The decision makers: is there a diffusion of responsibility (who’s in charge??), do they have agenda inertia, is there a complexity mismatch, are they rejecting the warning out of bias/ideology and not data, are they satisficing by giving a middling response to get the possible Cassandra off their back?

Decision, Design & Discipline:

Using the Cassandra Co-Efficient as a tool to help the decision-makers to separate a legitimate warning from a "Chicken Little" is worth your time. Our possible Cassandras as outlined in the book were usually:

1. Technical experts in their field

2. Very data driven when forming their theorems.

3. Conceptual thinkers with ideas that stand apart from everything else or "out of left field."

4. filled with a have a deep sense of personal responsibility

5. saddled with off-putting personalities or high anxiety (which you can imagine comes from decades of people ignoring their important warning!)

"Warnings" is split into two parts: “Missed Warnings” and “Current Warnings.” Missed Warnings examines seven verified Cassandras (experts in various fields who saw disasters coming but were ignored). Current Warnings presents a group of seven possible Cassandras (experts now pounding the table about disasters looming ahead). The importance of understanding what was missed in the past is an education in what to listen to for the future.

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