How can you learn to counter asymmetric threats?

An asymmetric threat is unpredictable, and the likelihood of it happening is very low. While this type of threat is extremely expensive to prevent, when it happens, it causes considerable damage. Does this remind you of anything…? Asymmetric attacks tend to provoke feelings of powerlessness, but you can find ways to limit the damage.

The COVID-19 crisis took you off-guard. Once the initial shock wears off, you might be tempted to try to foresee everything to avoid any more bad surprises, or to cling to a contingency plan. In reality, however, disasters are usually the result of an unlikely combination of several factors, which means it’s near impossible to see them coming or have a set of pre-made solutions ready in advance

Wolfowitz, Rivera and Ware suggest a different approach: prepare a comprehensive plan to deal with different categories of disaster scenarios: 1) lasting damage to your infrastructure (a terrorist action, blockade, etc.); 2) a technological failure (data theft, security breaches in a key technology, etc.); 3) natural disasters (flood, hurricane, earthquake, tsunami, fire, etc.) –watch out for this category, as its risks are often underestimated!; 4) new forms of war between states (cyber-attacks, industrial espionage, etc.).

In response to each of these possible cases, including those that would be a priori unthinkable, the authors suggest training, training, and more training:

– Simulate these crises, test the plans, adjust them and repeat them regularly to strengthen good reflexes.

– Put the emphasis on economic intelligence and collecting information. How will you spot the warning signs of an asymmetric threat at the earliest possible stage?

Rather than working on the plan itself, focus more on the structural processes – they are what will help you to cope when the time comes.

 

Further reading: “Planning for the unexpected” Strategy + Business, Paul Wolfowitz, Kristin Rivera, Glenn Ware, October 9, 2018.