Thursday, March 07, 2019

Thoughts on Crises

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The word "crisis" gets tossed around a great deal nowadays. I used to teach workshops on crisis management and it was always interesting to examine the differences between various crises and how they were resolved. A few statements of the obvious:

  1. The best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it. This is more difficult than it seems because there often are accusations of undue caution, inflated fears or paranoia. A crisis that is undeniable may be well beyond the prevention stage. It's probably at your front door.
  2. There are some crises that are the product of such enormous and lengthy neglect that clear victories are no longer available. Everyone will lose.
  3. There are many times when prevention of a crisis is impossible because a "Pearl Harbor mentality" is present. Despite significant evidence, people don't recognize a crisis until it blows up and is undeniable.
  4. You'll need a "deep bench" to handle a major crisis because the first team will soon be exhausted.
  5. Once a crisis occurs, the initial steps involve gaining control of the situation and mitigating the damage. Decision-making is highly reactive at that point. The cause of the crisis might not even be known and new crises may multiply.
  6. A challenge for any organization that is dealing with a crisis is keeping the crisis from paralyzing non-crisis related operations.
  7. When considering the handling of a present crisis, the courses of action should be evaluated not simply for the efficacy in handling the current problem but also for future and perhaps even more extensive problems. In short, don't just craft a solution for today's situation but also think of even worst scenarios that could arise in the near future.
  8. If your team can't think of worst case scenarios, you'd better get a more imaginative crisis management team. That doesn't mean that your team isn't smart. Some very smart people designed the Maginot Line. It means they lack the necessary imagination to think of what can go wrong.
  9. Give all suitable congratulations and recognition to those brave souls who have successfully handled a crisis but give special recognition to those who have, under far less dramatic circumstances and often under bureaucratic or political attack, prevented one.

[Photo by Alexey Soucho at Unsplash]


Vince Dunn said...

It is important to recognize a crisis from that which may only be urgent. Perhaps it is semantics but I think there are major differences in the two. A somewhat different word, but I have a co-worker uses the term "critical" to explain actions that may need to get done. They are often not "critical" in nature.

Michael Wade said...


You are correct: people often inflate an item that is merely urgent into a "crisis."

What I've also noticed is the complex nature of situations where certain components are not yet a crisis but some have the capacity to become a crisis very rapidly.

We need a wider array of terms.


Wally Bock said...

Two addenda to number 1. Pete DeJager warned people of the impending Y2K early. Everyone said he was nuts, then a few, then many heeded his warnings. Because so many did, there was no crisis when the Millennium turned over, but then people said Peter was crazy, after all, nothing happened.

After the first World Trade Center bombing (1993). Rick Rescorla, war hero and director of security for Morgan Stanley offered to help the Port Authority prepare for what he was sure would be another attack. They told him he was nuts and refused his help. So Rick prepared the Morgan Stanley employees in the towers for what was sure would happen. Naturally people grumbled about the drills. But on September 11, 2001, when the towers were attacked, 2700 Morgan Stanley employees marched down the stairs in orderly pairs. That day, because of Rick, Morgan Stanley only lost 13 people. One of them was Rick, last seen on the tenth floor looking for stragglers.

Michael Wade said...


Great observations and the last part of the second one is particularly powerful.

I recall that after 9/11 someone in the government said, "Who could have imagined this sort of attack?" My reaction: It wasn't really that hard to imagine.

But as you've noted, being taken seriously is another story.