1. Cognitive causes. These explain why we ignore or discount the threat of predictable surprises. Bazerman and Watkins argue, for example, that we tend to hold positive illusions that lead us to interpret events in an ego-centric (self-centred/self satisfied) manner and to undervalue risks. They say this is compounded by other natural tendencies, for example:
· to prefer (and protect) the status quo and thus to create barriers to the changes needed (often on a large-scale) to head off major problems;
· to run the risk of incurring a large but low-probability loss in the future rather than accepting a smaller but more certain loss (cost) now;
· to be reluctant to invest in risk avoidance/risk management measures until we have directly experienced significant harm; and
· to discount the future - we are comparatively unwilling to invest now to prevent a disaster that may be quite vague and distant.
2. Organisational causes. The authors argue that organisations frequently fail to take a range of active steps that would probably avoid predictable surprises. For example:
· scanning the environment for information about possible threats;
· taking and integrating information from multiple sources;
· responding (to potential threats) in a timely manner;
· observing the results of the response; and
· incorporating the lessons learned into the institutional memory of the organisation
Unfortunately, as Bazerman and Watkins acknowledge, organisational structures and processes often stand in the way of such steps being taken. For example, organisational 'silos' can impede the flow of information and reward systems can encourage people to seek personal benefit at the expense of the collective good.
3. Political causes. Bazerman and Watkins demonstrate that "...there are often a small number of individuals and organisations that are highly skilled at corrupting the political system for their own benefit" (p.10). In the US system, they say, it is far too easy for special interests to influence the political process and to increase the probability of predictable surprises. In part this is because there is an unfortunate nexus between two things. The first is the pressure on politicians from powerful constituencies to avoid imposing on those constituencies the costs needed to prevent predictable surprises. The second factor is the likelihood that the benefits, if these costs were incurred, would not be enjoyed until after the politicians who imposed them have left office. Interestingly, in the light of similar concerns in this part of the world, another of the 'political' causes of predictable surprises mentioned by the authors is the failure to enact meaningful reform of electoral campaign finance in the US.