… for extraordinary need

January 17, 2014

The trip home overnight was a lot less eventful than the flight out!  The plane left Minneapolis on time, O'Hare was perfect, albeit with a long layover and I landed in London on time this morning.  It was the first time I had flow economy across the Atlantic in years thanks to my booking being the BA.  It meant that evening though I was on American flying back it was a code share and thus I was not eligible.  It was not too bad, loss of weight means more room, more flexibility etc. and I had a bulkhead seat with both seats to my right blocked by the nice women in the Admiral's Club lounge at O'Hare.

I was thinking more about the Toronto fiasco both on the flights and in the lounge.  As I said in my last post on this subject the problem was continuing to apply linear process when the level of disruption to the system required something more radical, in particular parallel processing and a created focus on the management of constraints and attractors.   It would also need more thinking about co-ordinating the various airlines and airport authorities.  Now I hear that the Toronto Airports Authority are going to look at doing things differently.   I am sure that in doing so they will improve the response to future events, but I also suspect that they will miss an opportunity or two.  Retrospective studies tend to prevent previous failure from repeating, but lack flexibility in handling more ambiguous future states.  I suspect the will focus on process improvement rather than creating resilience within the system as a whole.

Creating networks of frequent users of Toronto airport and agreeing terms with the airlines for emergency access to their Frequent Fliers in airport​ would be one starting point.   This is what I talk about as creating networks for ordinary purposes that can be activated or ordinary needs.  So lets look at how this might work.   Firstly all airports need to know about how people experience their transit.  Most of the time this is done through surveys and the like.   Now with SenseMaker® we can be more sophisticated.   By creating panels of customers and offering incentives to high status frequent fliers to keep journals of their transit through the airport the authority would get useful information at lower cost that the surveys.  They would also create a weak signal detection network for faults in real time which would be a good thing all round.  With that in place a future emergency would see a network already in place that would allow for both gathering data, but also communication.

Now there is more, but that is one key starting point.  On top of that we need to think about the structure of emergency management teams involving different parties and the wider engagement of those trapped along with local transport and hotel companies.   It is no longer enough to have processes designed for less disruptive times.   We know that extreme weather events are on the increase and regrettably this sort of thing is going to get more frequent.  We need to prepare the eco-system of airport staff, airline staff, passengers and local businesses to handle situations that we cannot anticipate or predict.  The good news is that building networks for ordinary purposes, provides immediate benefit and cost reduction.  It may take a little effort to get your mind around that but it is a critical point.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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