Thinking the unthinkable: Why have leaders lost touch with events?

Brexit, the annexation of Crimea and Europe’s migration crises – how can leaders adapt to the new normal of 'unthinkable' events?


Nik Gowing, Visiting Fellow, Kings College London

Sir Simon Fraser, former Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Chaired by

Mark Leonard, Director, ECFR

A proliferation of ‘unthinkable’ events over the last two years, such as Brexit, the Russian seizure of Crimea, the 60% crash in oil prices and Europe’s migration crises, has revealed a new fragility at the highest levels of corporate and public service leadership. This session asked how leaders must adapt to the new normal and discussed new evidence available at

Nik Gowing (@Think_Unthink) was a main news presenter for the BBC’s international 24-hour news channel BBC World News from 1996-2014. For 18 years, he worked at ITN where he was bureau chief in Rome and Warsaw, and Diplomatic Editor for Channel Four News (1988-1996). He is the co-author of Thinking The Unthinkable.

Sir Simon Fraser (@SimonFraser00) is a managing partner at Flint Global Ltd. Previously he served as Head of the UK Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service. He also led the Department for Business and served as Chief of Staff to the European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in Brussels.

Mark Leonard (@markhleonard) is founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations. His latest piece for ECFR is Brexit: The foreign policy implications.