The Tham Luang cave rescue: Decision-making with the highest stakes

For nearly 3 weeks during the summer of 2018, the attention of millions across the globe was focused on northern Thailand where a massive effort was underway to locate and rescue 12 members of a boys’ soccer team and their coach who were trapped underground in the rapidly flooding Tham Luang cave.

Among those watching was Yael Grushka-Cockayne with the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Management. As she watched this incredible rescue effort unfold, she recognized it as a massive and complex study in risk management and decision-making, one in which the highest stakes were involved. Today I’m thrilled to be joined by Yael to take a look back at this event and share the insight gained from her own case study of a rescue that, had different decisions been made at key points along the way, could have had a very different outcome.

For me, the lesson learned is that, especially in moments of crisis, at the beginning of a crisis, many of us tend to expect a lot of order and hierarchy and clear planning and a clear chain of command and very clear roadmaps forward. And I think, in moments of crisis like that, when we crave that organization, when it’s not there, it’s just not there and it doesn’t exist, we need to recall and help ourselves remember that there could be something important in the chaos. It could be the way forward is to have a thousand flowers bloom and to have a lot of people bring each other, and crowd source activities, and really diverge our efforts in a way that then allows us to find the path forward.

Interviewed this episode:

Yael Grushka-Cockayne

University of Virginia’s Darden School of Management

Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne’s research and teaching activities focus on data science, forecasting, project management and behavioral decision-making. Her research is published in numerous academic and professional journals, and she is a regular speaker at international conferences in the areas of decision analysis, project management and management science. She is also an award-winning teacher, winning the Darden Morton Leadership Faculty Award in 2011, the University of Virginia’s Mead-Colley Award in 2012 and the Darden Outstanding Faculty Award and Faculty Diversity Award in 2013. In 2015, she won the University of Virginia All University Teaching Award. Grushka-Cockayne teaches the core “Decision Analysis” course, an elective she designed on project management and an elective on data science. She is the leader of the open enrollment courses “Project Management for Executives” and “The Women’s Leadership Program.”

Before starting her academic career, she worked in San Francisco as a marketing director of an Israeli ERP company. As an expert in the areas of project management, she has served as a consultant to international firms in the aerospace and pharma industries. She is a UVA Excellence in Diversity fellow and a member of INFORMS, the Decision Analysis Society, the Operational Research Society and the Project Management Institute (PMI). She is an associate editor at Management Science and Operation Research and the secretary/treasurer of the INFORMS Decision Analysis Society.

In 2014, Grushka-Cockayne was named one of “21 Thought-Leader Professors” in Data Science. Her recent “Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management” Coursera MOOC had over 100,000 enrolled, across 200 countries worldwide.