Predictable Surprise

Climate change denial

jenny holzer

A predictable surprise describes a situation or circumstance in which avoidable crises are marginalized in order to satisfy economic and social policies. The term was popularized by Harvard Business School professors Max H. Bazerman and Michael D. Watkins who defined ‘predictable surprises’ as problems that: at least some people are aware of, are getting worse over time, and are likely to explode into a crisis eventually, but are not prioritized by key decision-makers or have not elicited a response fast enough to prevent severe damage.

These problems tend to require a significant investment in the near term that will not pay off until later. This could involve changes to established organization culture and/or changes that competing interests do not benefit from. Frequently cited examples include the Iraq War, Enron, the subprime mortgage crisis, the Hurricane Katrina response, global warming, and the Catholic sex abuse scandal.

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