Online presentation and discussion 6 May 2021 more details at ANZSYS Events


Professor Dr Bill Hutchinson

Investigating the problem of surprise attack using a systemic approach gave unusual insights including:

  1. Boundary development is by its nature something that restricts reality and actually forms its own. Reification is a great danger to the solution to the problem at hand.
  2. Boundaries are defined by power and influence and tend to be self-limiting.
  3. The limiting of sensors caused by the boundary ensures that the ‘system environment’ has only limited input. Hence, ‘willful blindness’ will mean a surprise is likely. The foe can take advantage of this blind spot.
  4. Surprises can be ‘tactical’ that is, where the sensor system has picked up intelligence but it has been misinterpreted or combinations of variables have been totally overlooked. A ‘strategic’ surprise is where the event has not even been recognized as it had not even been considered a possibility as its presence is unknown to the system.
  5. Bottom-up, inductive/abductive thinking is required; as ‘intuition’ recognizes a change in the environment that seems significant but is outside the boundaries of the system. Hence, willful blindness needs to be overcome.
  6. A system boundary makes a problem ‘manageable’ but will make the solution a deductive not a truly systemic one.

To discuss this initially use the example of a travelling salesperson in the UK with 3 complete homes with children, owned homes, etc. This true example should have had a multitude of warnings. Is this ‘willful blindness’? Is it possible to build systems that can cope with true surprises? For instance, Big Data can help but data have meanings which can be ignored or misinterpreted.


Bill Hutchinson is an Honorary Professor at the Security Research Centre at Edith Cowan University in Perth. Bill has had roles in government, finance, oil and gas, and underwater technology industries as well as academia and technical education. For the last 25 years, Bill has been involved in the area of Information Warfare specializing in deception and has published a book and numerous papers in this area. Bill has a Masters in Natural Resource Management, a doctorate on the use of systems methodologies in Integrated Catchment Management, and various other qualifications in Intelligence, and Information Warfare.