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Are There Cassandras in Your Organization?

June 14th, 2017

 

 

 

Are There Cassandras in Your Organization?

 

 

By: Don Phin

(read on site)

I listened to a fascinating podcast interview with James Altucher and R.P. Eddy, co-author of the book Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes. Co -author Richard A. Clarke has written many what I will call disaster or warning books. While I’m not big on being a pessimist (it’s too damn depressing) it makes sense to move forward with eyes wide open. Essentially Cassandras (named after the mythological figure who could foresee future disasters but nobody would believe her) are people who have been ignored when it came to HIV, Katrina, recession of 2008, Fukushima and other disasters. Current concerns include pandemics, the rise of AI, nuclear winters, sea level rise, meteor strikes, vulnerability of the Internet of Everything, and more. Again, I know these things are out there…and so do you. It may be my foolish choice but I’m not going prepper any time soon. At the same time I won’t be reckless and will take any reasonable steps. But…I am fascinated by the idea of the Cassandra. They remind me of the Whistle-blowers (mostly engineers) I represented in my career. Question: Are you paying attention to these people in your organization? According to Altucher’s summary, J.P. says (with my notes in parenthesis.)

  • Cassandras are data driven. Everybody in our book who was right was a proven, technical expert on the topic they were speaking about. (Who are those wonks at your company? What are they saying about things?)
  • They are questioners by personality. They ask hard questions and doubt what most believe. (Which means they can be a real PITA. “Do you have to question everything I say?”)
  • They have an off-putting personality…not always, but it’s common. (Engineers are good at this. So are lawyers. Ever tried arguing with either one?)
  • They have a sense of personal responsibility. “When they walk into a restaurant and the fire alarm goes off, they’re the one who says to everybody, ‘Let’s get out of here,” R.P. Said. “These guys think of themselves as sheepdogs. … it’s their job to protect us.” (Which means they can be trusted but controlling.)
  • They have high anxiety. “Let’s go back to our fire alarm example. These are the guys who look for the fire exits when they walk in. They’re the people who pull the fire alarm when they smell smoke. And when you think about personalities, a lot of people don’t do that.” (Making them great as risk managers and horrible travel companions.)
  • (And I will add- they are not just men.)

I not only litigated whistle-blower cases, I also created company ethics programs and reporting structures. I recommend companies consider Employee Confidential. You want to encourage people to come forth. In my experience, the only people who don’t buy into that approach are those who have a reason to fear exposure. I have zero empathy for them. I also listened to a podcast of the annual Berkshire Hathaway meeting. I was once again impressed by the intelligence of all who spoke but most impressed about the openness of Buffett and Munger to the doubters. To the Cassandras… be they reporters, shareholders or other experts. They wanted that challenge, that feedback, that dialogue. And in public in front of tens of thousands of people where there is no place to hide. Because there is no place to hide. Would you be so bold? Warning: when you are not open to the Cassandra’s input you will be the last to know. And you will pay the price.

 

Don Phin, Esq. 619.852.4580 cell 3200 Fourth Ave., Suite 208 San Diego, Ca 92103 www.donphin.com www.greathr.com www.hrsherpas.com

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