Imagine that you are a corporate executive or small business owner in a midwestern city under water after weeks of extreme weather and drenching rainfall. Infrastructure has been damaged beyond repair, transportation arteries are closed, and your supply chain is broken. Families have been driven from homes, food and water are in short supply, and people are becoming unruly. Government agencies are not in a position to help. Declining revenue and partisan antipathy fueled by ideological differences have eroded confidence in government. The city is in total disrepair and unable to deliver desperately needed services. It is edging toward implosion and community leaders have turned to you for help.
Catastrophe that would have been unthinkable in earlier times is a reality in a world coming out of pandemic and facing existential threats such as climate change, inequality and global conflict. Catastrophic Risk: Business Strategy for Managing Turbulence in a World at Risk challenges business to step up and assume a pivotal role with communities under stress due to prolonged exposure to risk. When powerful societal forces meet behavior that deters response to risk, the consequences of risk are exacerbated. The compounding effect of behavior on risk has opened an important role for business in mobilizing people and communities in times of crisis. It is a role that cannot be fulfilled, however, without purpose, strategy and plans sufficiently robust to overcome the threat of risk. To prosper in this environment, business will need to make a significant contribution to society as well as to deliver financial performance. For companies, this will mean involvement in community in ways that significantly depart from current practice. For leaders, it will mean new skills—contextual sensitivity, a greater understanding of behavioral dynamics, and enhanced capacity to relate to people on an emotive basis.
This book is about the relationship between risk, societal forces and human behavior—a relationship informed by the sciences that is critically important for business. Its goal is two-fold: to bring catastrophic risk to the world of business and to further business engagement in service to the common good.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: SETTING THE CONTEXT
Chapter 1. A World at Risk
Chapter 2. Deterrents to Action
PART TWO: CHALLENGES AND DETERRENTS
Chapter 3. The Power and Peril of Pandemic
Chapter 4. Climate Change: Default, Mitigation, or Adaptation?
Chapter 5. Social Inequality
Chapter 6. Polarization: Factions, Filters and Antipathy
Chapter 7. Changing Social Norms
Chapter 8. Navigating and Falling Behind Change
PART THREE: SHAPING THE FUTURE
Chapter 9. Rethinking Business Purpose and Strategy
Chapter 10. Mobilizing
Richard Alfred is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at the University of Michigan. Prior to joining the graduate faculty at Michigan in 1980, he served as an executive officer in the City University of New York and the Metropolitan Community Colleges in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of numerous books among them Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders: Context, Challenges and Capabilities (2015), Performance: The Dynamic of Results in Postsecondary Organizations (2012), and an award-winning book on organizational strategy, Managing the Big Picture in Colleges and Universities: From Tactics to Strategy (2006). Over the course of a 50-year career in academe, he has consulted with hundreds of organizations in the areas of strategy, organizational effectiveness and performance, and leadership. Foresight into the future—a hallmark of his books and written works—has shaped management and leadership practice in colleges and universities throughout North America.
Dick holds a baccalaureate degree from Allegheny College and masters and doctoral degrees from Penn State University. He and his wife Pat reside in Ocean Park, Maine.
"In Catastrophic Risk, Richard Alfred tackles one of the most salient topics to today’s business: risks that are global in scale, yet barely perceptible. These are risks that threaten all human life. They include climate change, the pandemic, social inequality and rogue technologies. Almost everyone contributes to and suffers from these risks, yet no one person can control them. Alfred takes the reader on an important journey in explaining the risks, how they arose, and why we aren’t acting, in spite of their existential threat. He leaves the reader both sobered about the significance of the issues around us, yet hopeful because of the clear guidance he offers in mobilizing action. This book is clearly of the moment."
Pratima (Tima) Bansal, FRSC
Canada Research Chair in Business Sustainability
Ivey Business School, Western University
"In Catastrophic Risk, author Richard Alfred provides us the 21st Century version of Silent Spring, which foretold the risk to an earlier generation of the risk of complacency during a time of obvious, pending catastrophe. The world responded and now bald eagle populations are literally soaring. The risks we now face are on a much grander scale than we've ever seen. In this crisis, lies an epic opportunity where people will thrive on what makes us the most human: Creativity, Imagination, Invention and Innovation. These traits will unveil unprecedented opportunities for those who embrace their power on the economic, governmental, social, business, technological and entrepreneurial frontiers."
CEO, and Chief Storyteller of Menlo Innovations
Author, Joy, Inc. - How We Built a Workplace People Love
Chief Joy Officer - How Great Leaders Eliminate Fear and Elevate Human Energy
"Catastrophic Risk presents a critical examination of the fragile and perilous world in which we inhabit. Richard Alfred, a researcher, author and professor emeritus of effective leadership, offers us an unvarnished analysis of the COVID pandemic, climate change, growing income and social inequity and other natural and man-made challenges that threaten to upend the social, political, and economic world order. Through his careful and thoughtful narrative, Alfred makes a compelling case that we, as human beings, possess the natural abilities of intelligence, creativity, and survival instinct to both understand, anticipate, and in many cases, prepare for and mitigate risk. Fundamentally, it’s a question of leadership and the ability to build commitment and momentum to effect real and long-lasting change. Those of us in leadership positions with opportunities to influence must take heed of Alfred’s clarion call and mobilize our constituencies and communities to bring about a more just, equitable and sustainable world."
J. Noah Brown
President and CEO
Association of Community College Trustees
"In Catastrophic Risk: Business Strategy for Managing Turbulence in a World at Risk, Richard Alfred provides a clarion call for leaders in business, education, and health—indeed leaders in all industries including government—to give serious thought to the forces and challenges facing their organizations in the immediate future. Drawing widely on literature and research in the social and environmental sciences, he lays out the critical nature of forces—climate change, social inequality, contagion, changing norms and more—that interact to provide a "catastrophic set of risk conditions" confronting all organizations. He then describes the implications of these challenges for leaders and identifies forward-thinking, externally-focused strategies that will be necessary to address the worst effects of a potentially catastrophic future. A prescient contribution to the future of industries and organizations and a must read for leaders who question the viability of their current strategies for change."
Marvin W. Peterson, Professor Emeritus and Former Director
Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education
University of Michigan
Catastrophic Risk is an exceptional and timely work by Richard Alfred. Dr. Alfred has devoted over 40 years of professional life to researching, writing, teaching, consulting and mentoring leaders on organizational strategy and effectiveness. Catastrophic Risk, his latest work, gives the serious reader thoughtful, sustainable and human-centered strategies to enhance organizational performance in a turbulent world.
The strength of this work is grounded in its clarity, purpose and vision supported by carefully annotated risks including global pandemic, climate change, polarizing social disruption, and the uncertainty of change. Factual documentation is presented and ideas are carefully developed while defensive modes of thought and political ideology are absent. Once catastrophic risk is explained and differentiated from conventional risk, attention turns to rethinking business strategy in a context of turbulence. Leaders are called upon to pursue shared value creation, civic outreach, and to rethink the goal of profit. The author’s challenge to business and, perhaps to all of us, is to reinterpret the fundamental purpose of business, and indeed, of organizations in general, in a world at risk. No small task, but critically important in an environment of deepening conditions, fast change and growing urgency. Catastrophic Risk is written on the basis of conditions and events in the world we live in. More importantly, however, it is premised on a vision of what our world could become and humanitarian strategies that will be needed to preserve the common good.
Margaret A. Gratton, President Emeritus
Orange Coast College
Costa Mesa, California