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Thinking the Unthinkable


When US Air flight 1549 landed unexpectedly in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, the pilot, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, III, became an instant hero. But there were other heroes on the Hudson River that day as well.

One was the twenty-something skipper of a ferry that was plying the waters of the Hudson that morning. Within minutes her ferry was alongside the stricken aircraft, providing a refuge for passengers as they scrambled to safety. Asked later how she managed to come to their aid so quickly, she replied simply, "We trained for this."

The idea that a jetliner would land in the Hudson was unthinkable. It had never happened before, and it will likely never happen again. The chances of such an incident occurring were, and still are, infinitesimal.

Yet those running the New York Waterway commuter ferries had the foresight to not only conceive of such an event, but to actually implement a plan to deal with such an eventuality. They were willing to think the unthinkable.

Planning effectively for work in China requires that one also be willing to think the unthinkable. Although one can point to many continuities in China's long history, it has also been marked by a number of jarring discontinuities. Identifying current trends and assuming that they will continue to play out in a linear fashion may provide some sense of reassurance about the future, but in the end one may be caught totally unprepared by events that no one saw coming.

In 2007 ChinaSource teamed up with the National Bureau of Asian Research to convene a conference on what China could look like in the year 2020. Out of the contributions of the scholars who participated emerged four scenarios. Some contain elements that today might seem "unthinkable," but each scenario is entirely plausible. Looking back at those scenarios, they are still as instructive today as when they were conceived of seven years ago. While no one can predict China's future, the scenarios provide a framework for thinking about what could happen, allowing one to imagine how one's current activities might (or might not) look very different.

Are you willing to think the unthinkable? Read more about the four scenarios, and what they might mean for you, here.

When US Air flight 1549 landed unexpectedly in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, the pilot, Captain Chesley Sully Sullenberger, III, became an instant hero. But there were other heroes on the Hudson River that day as well.

One was the twenty-something skipper of a ferry that was plying the waters of the Hudson that morning. Within minutes her ferry was alongside the stricken aircraft, providing a refuge for passengers as they scrambled to safety. Asked later how she managed to come to their aid so quickly, she replied simply, We trained for this.

The idea that a jetliner would land in the Hudson was unthinkable. It had never happened before, and it will likely never happen again. The chances of such an incident occurring were, and still are, infinitesimal.

Yet those running the New York Waterway commuter ferries had the foresight to not only conceive of such an event, but to actually implement a plan to deal with such an eventuality. They were willing to think the unthinkable.

Planning effectively for work in China requires that one also be willing to think the unthinkable. Although one can point to many continuities in Chinas long history, it has also been marked by a number of jarring discontinuities. Identifying current trends and assuming that they will continue to play out in a linear fashion may provide some sense of reassurance about the future, but in the end one may be caught totally unprepared by events that no one saw coming.

In 2007 ChinaSource teamed up with the National Bureau of Asian Research to convene a conference on what China could look like in the year 2020. Out of the contributions of the scholars who participated emerged four scenarios. Some contain elements that today might seem unthinkable, but each scenario is entirely plausible. Looking back at those scenarios, they are still as instructive today as when they were conceived of seven years ago. While no one can predict Chinas future, the scenarios provide a framework for thinking about what could happen, allowing one to imagine how ones current activities might (or might not) look very different.

Are you willing to think the unthinkable? Read more about the four scenarios, and what they might mean for you, here.

Image credit: Huffington Post

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of... View Full Bio