The French Ministry of Defence recently hired a group of science fiction writers to join them to think about scenarios they hadn’t thought of. Similarly, after 9/11 the CIA brought in science fiction writers because the US government believed the CIA lacked the imagination to predict the attacks.

    In an increasingly complex world the French MOD wanted people who can think of defence scenarios that ‘normal’ people would not think of. (Science fiction writers do an awful lot of research for their books). In other words it helps military strategists anticipate threats to national security by thinking outside the box.

    It begs the question: Do boardrooms need more imagination to anticipate threats and risks in an increasingly complex world? People with imagination?

    Even a board with very experienced directors can suffer from a lack of imagination. So what are the biggest challenges in today’s complex world?


    Think: Did these challenges exist 20 years ago?

    Cyber-attacks and data loss cause reputational damage, heavy regulatory fines and some businesses may never recover or go out of business.

    How does a company protect itself?
    A) Instil a culture of Cyber Security among staff.
    Staff should be trained to spot phishing emails, and be restricted as to what websites to visit to prevent accidental downloads of malware and other malicious software. Physical devices like laptops should be secured against usb’s and other risks. Lloyds Banking Group have excellent cyber security training which instils awareness among staff of cyber threats. This training is mandatory and is done quarterly.

    B) Have the best Network infrastructure
    Ensure your company has the best front line defence against cyber-attack and test it. Regularly.

    Data breaches can affect a whole organisation, its partners, suppliers and customers. Cyber security and business continuity are two sides of the same coin.
    “Every person in an organisation has a stake in protecting digital data and systems.” It’s about culture.

    Hackers use their imagination to create ever more fiendish methods to attack computer systems – businesses need to be just as creative to defend themselves.

    a) Opportunities
    Speed/Implement quickly (VM’s, CPU, software, security configuration)
    Cheaper – rent by the hour/month
    Flexible – if it doesn’t work start again

    b) Risks
    Support – relying on vendor to fix issues, not employees
    Needs to be secure
    Loss of intellectual property
    Compliance violations / regulatory actions
    Loss of control end user actions
    Malware infections / customer trust
    Cloud breaches/hack of Evernote, Adobe, LastPass (stores passwords!!)
    Lack of control of users – Buy your own Cloud-what cloud services are your users using-IT audit
    Contractual breaches of customers/business partners
    If customer suspects data is not fully protected they may move elsewhere

    Companies need creative/imaginative people to see the risks and opportunities offered by cloud technology.


    a) Opportunities
    Promote brand/image
    Promote products/service
    Social image/charitable work
    Customer engagement

    b) Risks
    Employees making personal posts – reputational damage
    legal issues

    Advertising – this is good right?
    But what if you provide a bad service?
    South Western Railway recently run a Facebook advertising campaign
    in the same style as Great Western Railways. The advert was inundated
    with hundreds of comments from angry customers about the service that SWR provide.
    So this back-fired spectacularly.

    Someone with a bit of imagination could have seen this coming.

    If you provide a bad service you cannot hide behind a customer helpline.
    Your customers will post to Social Media to complain.
    Feedback is immediate.

    EVERYONE needs to be responsible for climate change, especially a
    board of directors should aim for their business to be carbon neutral.

    This includes:
    Waste recycling in the office
    Company vehicles being low emission/hybrid/electric.
    Using solar panels on roofs.

    It needs someone with a bit of imagination to see how a company can reduce its carbon footprint.

    Doing these things and just as important, communicating your actions to your customers, partners and suppliers make your company look socially and environmentally responsible.

    Data science has become increasingly important. Amazon runs its business on AI and knows what you want to buy before you buy it. AI and Data Science will be at the forefront of boards radar within the next few years.

    AI seems to be in the realms of science fiction but it will become a bigger part of our lives within the next twenty years or so, just as the internet is now. A board member with a bit of imagination needs to think about how this will affect the business – both risks and opportunities.

    Should every board have a science fiction writer? Maybe. If he has good business skills like Risk, Finance or IT then certainly, yes.

    Boardrooms certainly need to hire Non-Executive Directors with good imaginations to predict the future (as well as the traditional skills) to address these challenges.
    Boards need people who can ‘think outside the box,’ to help guide them and adapt to an increasingly complex world.


    Richard Mann is an experienced and business orientated IT consultant with 25 years experience working for FTSE 100 companies in the Banking and Insurance sectors on Risk and Regulatory projects. An excellent problem solver, strategist and creative thinker, with a wide transferable skillset. He keeps up to date on recent developments and trends in the IT sector. He is a part-qualified accountant and is a member of the British Computer Society and the Institute of Analysts and programmers.

    Richard is also an author in the Science-fiction genre.

    He is available for Non-Executive Director roles.

    Copyright Richard Mann 2019

    Contact: [email protected]
    Mobile: 07914 739749