Perhaps it is the Icelanders’ revenge for the EU’s arrogant
treatment of them over the banking crisis, but one of their volcanoes has
suddenly shut down all air travel over Western Europe.
In doing so, it also caused considerable disruption to
international business: such is the nature of our global economy that the New
York to Heathrow flight is now almost a commuter run, but that should never
fool us into thinking that we are in control of our world.
The Icelandic volcano may be a blessing in disguise if it
reminds us how vulnerable we are to catastrophe, in spite of our advanced
...or, perhaps, because
of our advanced technology. As our machines become more complex, more can go
wrong with them, and they become harder to fix when it does. At the same time,
we become more reliant on them.
Dare one suggest that a sturdy old DC-3 might cope better
with volcanic ash than a modern jet with its sensitive engines and computer
It only takes a temporary disruption in the supply of power,
water, or telecommunications to remind us that the veneer of our civilisation
is very thin indeed. Yet the last few years alone have seen dozens of major
disruptions all over the world – the hurricane that wrecked New Orleans, the
tsunami in the Pacific, and earthquakes in China, Chile, Haiti, and Italy.
Then there are manmade disruptions: wars, terrorist attacks,
political revolution, market collapse, health scares, cyberwarfare... the list
is getting longer.
Quite apart from the human tragedies of the last decade,
millions of businesses, even in the most developed nations, have been wiped out
by sudden catastrophes – and all have this in common: none of them thought it
would happen to them.
All businesses should have contingency plans to cope with
major catastrophes, because major catastrophes happen.
Yet there are always opportunities as well as threats in
extreme situations. In particular, there may be a market for low technology for
when high technology fails. After all, Concorde is out of service but the DC-3 is
still in use.