Feeling Barmy in a BANI World?

  • Cynthia Johnson

Feeling out of sorts? A bit anxious? You may be experiencing the BANI world.

1n 2016 American author and futurist Jamais Cascio developed the BANI model to describe global conditions of the 21st century and how we were responding to them. In the BANI model B is for Brittle, A for Anxious, N for Non-linear, and I for Incomprehensible. In this post I’ll explain the four parts to the model finishing with A for Anxious because I think that is the outcome of the other three.


Our world is Brittle.  Previously stable and reliable institutions, infrastructure, organisations, processes, or systems suddenly break.  

Cascio says: “Brittleness often arises from efforts to maximize efficiency, to wring every bit of value — money, power, food, work — from a system.”

He also says: “Brittleness emerges from a dependence on a single, critical point of failure and from an unwillingness or inability to leave any excess capacity, or slack, in the systems.” In the last few years, our supply chains have been proven to be brittle. GIB board anyone? Waited six months for your new bookcase? Likewise we have discovered how brittle infrastructure can be. How about power cuts in the Waikato? Who’s thinking of our hospitals? Surprised by how reliant hospitality and horticulture industries are on foreign labour?


Non-linear means that the relationship between cause and effect isn’t a straight line or isn’t obvious. This could be because we just don’t know, for example, what happened on Malaysian Airline flight 370, why did it happen, and where is it? At other times it may be because the effect may lie dormant for many years. Decisions made decades ago, for example, have led to today’s global warming.

Sometimes we may not know why there is a relationship, just that there is. Cascio’s examples of unknown cause and effect relationships include lines of code that are essential for a programme to run but no one knows why, or how, just that if the code is removed the programme doesn’t work.

Events are Non-Linear when small events result in responses more expansive and costly than the original event. A virus in China kills millions around the globe; a small band of terrorists can wreak national and international havoc as in the case of the September 11 attacks. Similarly the damage inflicted, and the response and cost after one man’s attack on Christchurch mosques.


Events can be Incomprehensible either because:

  • They are illogical or senseless – Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones maintained that the deadly Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. He is currently on trial for defamation.
  • The origins are too long ago – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dates back to the 1700s.
  • They are too unspeakable – Sandy Hook and other USA school shootings; institutional sexual abuse.
  • Just too absurd – Recent American and UK politics and politicians provide many examples, likewise the conspiracy theories surrounding Covid-19.

It's human nature to want to understand the reason for events. It helps us feel more in control, safe, and better prepared. However, the explanations we find often don’t improve our understanding, and the information and data we source can be overwhelming or impenetrable. It’s hard for us to determine what’s real and what’s not, to sort the relevant from the irrelevant, or to work out the truth. This is especially so if the source is social media. And can we trust the people who claim to know?


When our experience of the world is Brittleness, Non-linear and Incomprehensible we can become Anxious, a condition it seems more people are reporting.

To settle our anxiety we search for information that will help us understand our experiences and make decisions but very often what we discover makes us even more anxious. We start to fear the consequences of making the wrong decision and in some cases this fear leads to unwillingness or inability to make any decision at all. (Shall I move my Kiwisaver into a different fund?) We may fret that we’ve missed out, or fear that it’s too late to do anything about it (e.g. the housing market; global warming.)

In areas of significant change, we look to leaders to make decisions for us, but we also fear that they’ll make the wrong decisions. Do we lockdown or not? Do we close the borders? Which vaccine will we back?

Conspiracies, hoaxes, exaggerations, fake news, and fake, fake news are responses to uncertainty that are attractive because they are definite. Elvis Presley is definitely alive! They all give simple explanations for complex events.  Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed by the royal family is a simple, definite explanation rather than the multiple explanations for her death (drunk driver; not wearing seatbelts; paparazzi; fatigue; speed.) We can see these two factors (definite and simple) in the many America election result and Covid 19 conspiracies. The conspiracies around these two events are also an example of how, if we are anxious, overwhelmed, and struggling with the uncertainty of the BANI world, we may look to follow people who appear to know for sure what is happening, especially if they are also charismatic. I think we can all think of examples of this.


What to do?

If you’re finding the world Brittle, Non-linear, Incomprehensible and if you are feeling Anxious you’re not alone and you’re not going barmy. It’s BANI, and an experience shared by many of us.

While we may not be able to predict, control, or understand events, we can learn to take more control of how we respond to those events. Indeed, in the challenges of change, perhaps the only thing we can control is our response to it.

Cascio suggests some ways of responding to the BANI conditions. Re-grouping his suggestions into two parts, Cascio says we need institutions and our decision makers to develop organisational resilience by:

  • accepting slack and flexibility in our systems. (I recently heard some one talking about just-in-time-plus for example.)
  • being transparent about practices and decisions so that people aren’t left second guessing, and
  • keeping abreast of changing contexts.

At a personal level we can meet and ease the challenges of a BANI world by:

  • learning to sit with uncertainty, however uncomfortable, and being mindful of the traps that can arise from our need for certainty and predictability
  • developing resilience
  • practicing mindfulness
  • being flexible and being prepared to wait and see
  • questioning those who know for sure and/or are isolated in their point of view.
  • keeping our minds open
  • trusting and also questioning our intuition, and
  • maintaining an awareness of bigger picture surrounding events and people’s decisions.

If you’re feeling barmy, or anxious, our Challenge of Change Resilience courses offer solutions for you and your team. They show people how to respond to uncertainty, how to develop resilience to change, and how to step out and above hype and negative emotion to regain perspective, focus on what they can control, and think clearly. Our website has numerous testimonials to the usefulness of the courses. For more information phone Cynthia 021 443 652.


Photo by Wei Ding on Unsplash

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