Thinking the Unthinkable

Thinking The Unthinkable is a rolling, ongoing, dynamic investigation into why leaders have appeared more unable or unwilling than ever to anticipate the biggest issues of our time


Thinking the Unthinkable Book (published on 24th May 2018) 


Trump. Brexit. Putin. Populism. Migration. #MeToo. Why is the gulf in trust widening between leaders in business or government and you - the voters, consumers and citizens?   


Thinking the Unthinkable reveals the private fears of top leaders during candid one-to-one conversations. Many are ‘scared’ and ‘overwhelmed’ by the new disruptions.  


Case studies reveal new positives and how smart leaders win through by taking huge risks.


Thriving in a time of change requires a new mindset, culture and behavior. Leaders reveal why a revolution is needed with a new courage, humility, purpose and values. The next generation must have a vital role.


The aim is a new community and process to engage leaders, future leaders and all worried about leadership.


Join us to think the unthinkable. . . and find solutions. - 


To order a copy of the book please click here 


More About Thinking the Unthinkable 


Executive leadership at the highest levels of corporate, public service and political life faces new vulnerabilities that few in these positions are willing to talk about publicly. In 2016, they are greater than at any time in recent history, and the implications are deeply troubling.


A proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events over the previous two years has revealed a new fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leaderships. Their ability to spot, identify and handle unexpected, non-normative events is shown not just to be wanting but also perilously inadequate at critical moments. The overall picture is deeply disturbing. 2014 was the year of ‘the great wake up’ because of a dramatic set of new strategic ruptures. It was a watershed period where “the old assumptions for making decisions are behind us”. In quick succession, crises of an unforeseen nature and scale broke out.


President Putin’s seizure of Crimea was quickly followed by the rise of so-called Islamic State, the devastating outbreak of Ebola, the sudden sixty per cent collapse in oil prices, and the cyber-attack on Sony. ‘Unthinkable’ events continued into 2015, led in impact by the sudden tsunami of refugees and migrants into Europe from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, which has created existential threats to the survival of the EU.1 Confidence in corporate values was severely challenged by the revelations of Volkswagen’s deception strategy in the testing of diesel emissions.


At the start of 2016, the uncertainty created by ‘unthinkables’ reached ever-greater depths. Prices of oil and commodities kept tumbling. The failure of China’s leadership to grip and halt the giant nation’s economic slowdown catalysed the New Year downturn in global stock-markets. Phrases like a “dangerous cocktail of new threats” captured the pervading mood of global fear and new, uncharted uncertainties.


The emerging picture is both scary and of great concern. Remarkably, there remains a deep reluctance, or what might be called ‘executive myopia’, to see and contemplate even the possibility that ‘unthinkables’ might happen, let alone how to handle them.


The rate and scale of change is much faster than most are even prepared to concede or respond to. At the highest board and C-suite levels, executives and their public service equivalents confess to often being overwhelmed. Nine key words and phrases are identified which summarise the reasons for the new executive vulnerabilities. But by and large, mind-sets, behaviour and systems are currently not yet adequately calibrated for the new reality. Time is at such a premium that the pressing need to think, reflect and contemplate in the ways required by the new ‘unthinkables’ is largely marginalised. This is because of the intensity of unexpected, non-normative global developments for which there seemed to be no advance alerts or signs.


The core leadership challenge is how to lead a company and government departments through the speed and nature of fundamental change that threatens the very conformity which has allowed the current leadership cohort to qualify for the top.


" always, you were phenomenal in creating a good and dynamic atmosphere. Impressive!" - Corporate Bank Event - August 2016


"Nik Gowing and Chris Langdon have written an excellent, challenging report, entitled: Thinking the Unthinkable: A New Imperative for Leadership in the Digital Age." Professor Jean-Pierre Lehmann in  Forbes Magazine 7 May 2016


“The report absolutely rings true, in so many dimensions, with my career experience. It's a long time since reading something made me reach for my pen and notebook virtually every page. This report did.” Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost at University College London. 


“I very much recommend the ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ report to you.”
Lord George Robertson,NATO Secretary General,1999-2004


“Thanks for letting me preview the excellent work before it is published. I am sure it will gowell. Makes indeed for uncomfortable reading and hopefully stimulates some action or change in behaviour as it ultimately boils down to individual leadership grounded on a strong sense of purpose and morality. Not easy for anybody and something we all have to work on every day.”

Paul Polman, Chief Executive of Unilever


“The ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’ report is particularly interesting. It talks about an ‘executive myopia’ at the top of organisations, both business and government and a failure not just to predict what are known as the black swan events, but also to understand ‘black elephants’ issues that are always there but are not confronted, so it’s not just thinking the ‘unthinkable’, the report concludes, but not thinking the ‘unpalatable’.”

Rachel Sylvester


“Many of you in this room know Nik Gowing, the former BBC journalist. And he’s been doing some work on what he calls ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’, a report for the Churchill 15 Global Leaders Programme. He (and Chris Langdon) did interviews with 60 leaders, who all basically confirmed a sense that, whether you’re in public or corporate leadership today, a sense of being overwhelmed by multiple intense pressures, by institutional conformity, by kind of group think and risk aversion. The fear for many people of career-limiting moves if they are the whistle-blowers when a crisis happens.”
Lord Mark Malloch Brown, Co-Chair, International Crisis Groups


"Your contribution was outstanding and was a large part of what made it so successful. I cannot thank you enough for taking on the challenge and for turning it into such a success"


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