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Several weeks ago, the Los Angeles World Affairs Council representatives contacted me to request my participation in their upcoming program on October 13, 2021. The program featured United States Army 4-star General Stanley McChrystal (ret) about his latest book, “Risk.”
The organizers of this event had seen one of my lectures in a virtual webinar series here at USC Price. I spoke of resiliency, values, ethics, and leadership in human capital development in that lecture.
During that webinar presentation, I said that human capital development requires and supports a culture of learning, adapting, critical thinking, tolerance, and reasonable risk-taking within the context of core human and ethical values. I cited my book chapter entitled “Techno Innovations: The Role of Ethical Standards, Law and Regulation, and the Public Interest” in “Next- Generation Ethics. Engineering a better society.” In that book chapter, I discuss the critical importance of instilling human values and ethics into artificial intelligence (AI) to protect the public interest. In short, where there is a code of ethics established through values, leaders possess the guidelines to carry out their tasks responsibly and with integrity. I conclude that AI leadership must not be different.
On October 13, I had the pleasure and honor to discuss “Risk” with Stan (he asked me to call him Stan) related to the importance of adaptability, structure, technology, and leadership. These concepts are among the “ten dimensions of control present in every organization…that can be monitored and adjusted to maintain a healthy Risk Immune System,” that Stan and his co-author Anna Butrico discuss in their book. Stan examines the success of a military unit, and for that matter, any organization in its defense depending on its ability to “detect” the foe, to “assess” its path and strength, to “respond” effectively, and “learn” enough to prevent or respond to further attacks. Modeled after the human immune system, Stan calls this the “Risk Immune System.”
The other control dimensions in this risk immune system include communication, narratives, diversity, bias, action, and timing. From the start of our communication, I asked Stan one compound question, as we lawyers call it, about why the book on risk? And why now?
I described to Stan the reasoning for my question. In our book “Newgotiation for Public Administration Professionals,” my friend and colleague Yann Duzert and I explain the importance of “why” as a preparation and value creation proposition in our four-step Newgotiation process.
The other two of the four being value distribution and implementation. We also discuss the critical importance of communication, narratives, bias, and timing as part of our ten elements in each negotiation process. So, the parallels between our book on “Newgotiation” and Stan’s on “Risk” are remarkable. However, these shared concepts are not coincidental as both relate to the human condition and behavior. So, I wished I had more time to discuss human condition and behavior with this distinguished 4-star general as a mayor and council member.
On why the book? Without hesitation, Stan responded, “because we have far more control” on managing risk than we think. While “that means we have more responsibility than we often accept…just how much of the risk we face depends on us,” he said.
The book describes risk as an understandable and straightforward mathematical equation; “threat times vulnerability equal risk (Threat X Vulnerability = Risk).” “If there are no threats-our vulnerability don’t matter, and if we have no vulnerabilities-threats don’t matter.”
On why now? Given eradicating either the threat or the vulnerability is typically not possible, the book has substantive relevance today during the pandemic. I asked Stan in our conversation whether we are still attempting to eradicate the risk of COVID19 or are we managing its risk based on what we assessed and learned. He said that it remains to be seen as to what we learned from this pandemic.
What we hope
However, we both agreed that neither the communication nor the narratives have been helpful to combat a common enemy. Stan said that success in war or, in this case, the pandemic, directly correlates to a common agenda and unity of purpose against a common enemy. We would have far more control than we think if only we were willing as a unified group to accept responsibility. Sadly, we still do not have a consistent and standard plan against COVID19, our common enemy.
The fear by some or the nonchalance against a deadly virus by others remains the subject of much debate. Instead of fighting the virus, our politically polarized states and cities fight along the political division lines. I remain hopeful that we will soon learn without the need for shaming, opposing, firing or mandating actions to reduce the threat and our vulnerabilities to COVID19. This effort will require an American and a global human response against this common enemy.
Frank V. Zerunyan is a Professor of the Practice of Governance at the University of Southern California (USC) Sol Price School of Public Policy (USC Price) and Director of Executive Education at USC Price Bedrosian Center on Governance. Professor Zerunyan oversees USC’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) as the Director and University Liaison for the U.S. Air Force, Army, Naval Reserves ROTC, and Nautical Science Programs.
Professor Zerunyan’s principal areas of expertise include governance, public-private partnerships, civic and ethical leadership, land use, medical regulation, negotiation, and executive education. He lectures locally and globally to build capacity and foster leadership among public executives worldwide. He is the author of books, book chapters, and many short articles published nationally, internationally, and on USC Price’s “Faculty Perspectives.” Professor Zerunyan is often quoted in the media and is a USC resource for journalists as an expert in governance and leadership. He is also an expert on public administration at the United Nations Innovation Branch (formerly Capacity Building Branch).
For his influential advisory role in the Republic of Armenia, he was awarded LL.D. Doctor of Laws – Honoris Causa by the Public Administration Academy of the Republic of Armenia. Professor Zerunyan designs curricula and teaches at the American University in Armenia, Yerevan State University, and the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University in Armenia, with an honorary rank of colonel. He also teaches for the U.S. Navy at the U.S. Naval Service Training Command.
Professor Zerunyan serves on the editorial boards of the Public Administration Scientific Journal for the Republic of Armenia and the Ukrainian Law Review. He is on the board of councilors of Anahuac University Law School, Xalapa, Mexico (Consejo Consultivo de la Escuela de Derecho).
Professor Zerunyan earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence (Doctor of Laws) degree from Western State University College of Law and his Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Long Beach. He also completed his advanced legal education in Corporate Taxation at the University of Southern California Law Center (USC Gould). He is a graduate of the California League of Cities’ Civic Leadership Institute.
Professor Zerunyan, trained and practiced as a lawyer, is a four-term Mayor and Councilmember in the City of Rolling Hills Estates, California. He serves on several city, county, and regional policy boards and committees. He was also a gubernatorial appointee under Governor Schwarzenegger, serving 38 million medical consumers on the Medical Board of California.