Was the COVID-19 pandemic a predictable surprise? A crisis management perspective.




Journal Title

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


Academia Letters



Peer reviewed



In their seminal work, Watkins and Bazerman (2003) defined a predictable surprise as “an event or set of events that take an individual or group by surprise, despite prior awareness of the information required to anticipate the events and their consequences”. The authors argued that predictable surprises are predominantly a failure of (i) recognition— the inability of an individual or group to spot red- flags, gaps and weaknesses in a system before they escalate to major disruptions (ii) prioritisation — failure to manage identified threats with the level of importance and urgency they require, and (iii) mobilisation — failure to organise and coordinate key resources in response to a potential or ongoing disaster. The authors subsequently developed a recognition-prioritisation-mobilisation (RPM) framework, which they proposed as a useful tool to gauge and/or ascertain the predictability of a crisis in hindsight. The impact of COVID-19 has been monumental on the global economy; national lockdowns and individual isolation have crushed world trade and commerce, putting globalisation on the backfoot probably for a foreseeable future. Activities involving the coming together of people have been grossly affected: air travel, tourism, sports, religion, arts, not to mention the sharp rise in unemployment rate in most parts of the world. But amidst all this chaos, many have wondered if better recognition of threats, prioritisation of actions and mobilisation of resources might have helped to reduce the impact of this pandemic on governments, businesses and citizens at large? This is the overarching question this paper seeks to address.



COVID-19, Predictable Surprises, Public Health Crisis, Uncertainty, Crisis Leadership


Okoli, J. (2021). Was the COVID-19 pandemic a predictable surprise? A crisis management perspective. Academia Letters, 516, pp.1-5 https://doi.org/10.20935/AL516


Research Institute

Centre for Enterprise and Innovation (CEI)