“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”
John F. Kennedy
I love this quote. And a boatload of business management people do <dozens of books written using it>.
Uh oh. But it isn’t true.
Good ole JFK got it wrong <but he is in good company>.
The usual explanation is that the Chinese ideogram for “crisis” is made up of two characters signifying “opportunity” and “danger.” To us folk on this side of the planet this is a great example of the ancient East wisdom. And teachers, pontificators, self help specialists, motivational speakers and anyone who likes to tell people to find lemonade when given a basket of lemons have used this explanation.
The key lesson shared?
“A crisis provides an opportunity for change and growth as well as a danger of regression or stagnation.”
<but that is too long and complete to be a soundbite>
Yup. This is pretty frickin’ deep.
1. In Chinese, the term for crisis is wei ji.
2. Native Chinese speakers tend to think the crisis = danger/opportunity connection is complete bullshit.
The Chinese word <not really an ideogram by the way> for crisis, when translated, literally means “dangerous, or precarious, moment.” That’s it. No ‘opportunity.’ No benefiting. Just danger. Or … maybe I should focus on the part I like … “a precarious moment.”
Not a bad lesson in itself. Crisis CAN be bad … but in reality is just all about having a precarious moment … that needs to be managed.
Just to be sure I cover all my bases as I tear down all that self-help mumbo jumbo people have absorbed and are putting in use day-to-day.
(through some research)
A mandarin expert breaks down the word and definition and wisdom mumbo-jumbo:
A whole industry of pundits and therapists has grown up around this one grossly inaccurate statement. A casual search of the Web turns up more than a million references to this spurious proverb. It appears, often complete with Chinese characters, on the covers of books, on advertisements for seminars, on expensive courses for “thinking outside of the box,” and practically everywhere one turns in the world of quick-buck business, pop psychology, and orientalist hocus-pocus. This catchy expression (Crisis = Danger + Opportunity) has rapidly become nearly as ubiquitous as The Tao of Pooh and Sun Zi’s Art of War for the Board / Bed / Bath / Whichever Room.
The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages.
<that was awesome …>
While it is true that wēijī does indeed mean “crisis” and that the wēi syllable of wēijī does convey the notion of “danger,” the jī syllable of wēijī most definitely does not signify “opportunity.”
The jī of wēijī, in fact, means something like “incipient moment; crucial point (when something begins or changes).” Thus, a wēijī is indeed a genuine crisis, a dangerous moment, a time when things start to go awry. A wēijī indicates a perilous situation when one should be especially wary. It is not a juncture when one goes looking for advantages and benefits.
As the Mandarin language expert says quite succinctly … “In a crisis, one wants above all to save one’s skin and neck!”
As well as …
“Any would-be guru who advocates opportunism in the face of crisis should be run out of town on a rail, for his / her advice will only compound the danger of the crisis.”
I loved this guy.
A little wordy in his explanation but he was passionate about telling everyone how far off base they were on the whole crisis/opportunity thing. Sorry. No Eastern wisdom here. In this case the east and the west agreed that a crisis is bad, dangerous and to be wary of and that’s it.
All that said <mostly said to enlighten everyone and piss off a boatload of publishers and book writers> let’s talk about crisis and the opportunities a crisis does actually create. Most of us quickly see the danger in a crisis… and we should … because it is exactly as translated … a precarious moment. Like its true Chinese definition a crisis is a crucial moment where things begin to go awry.
It is easy to overlook any opportunity within the crisis because, frankly, we are often just trying to survive <in other words … save our skin, neck & ass>.
And what makes this even more difficult is that the opportunity may be well hidden. The danger is always obvious and the most critical in our eye because the crisis creates potential personal harm. So what makes a crisis truly a “precarious moment” is that assuming you are seeking to find that elusive opportunity within the crisis … well … that with danger lurking its not that we forget to look for the opportunity but rather we seek to avoid the danger and the personal harm.
Lets call this for what it is … self preservation.
And that isn’t bad by the way. Because if you don’t survive the “opportunity” becomes irrelevant. It is natural to avoid danger during a crisis and make that THE priority. So, no, I am not going to suggest someone become an “opportunity person” when dealing with a crisis.
I believe people who can discover opportunities in a crisis are people who have already successfully managed the ‘precarious moment’ several times in the past. Maybe call it trial by fire. Maybe call it trial & error. But suffice it to say you ain’t gonna be seeking opportunities when dealing with your first true crisis.
Yes. Many people say that it was actually a crisis that caused them to make a much-needed change.
Yes. Living through a hard time challenges people to grow in ways that makes them more mature and opens them to new possibilities.
Where I would argue with people on this is that through surviving the crisis they … well … just found a better way to survive. And that’s not being opportunistic. That is simply survival instinct <compounded by understanding of what makes oneself happiest>.
Life constantly gives you opportunities … and gives you crisis also <unfortunately> … regardless … you get opportunities not just to take a chance but also just to improve your current state.
Here is the formula (although in this case I am not sure A + B = C).
(A) A crisis is a forced decision making moment (typically survival based).
(B) Decision making moments represent opportunities.
(C) Opportunities typically translate into some type of change.
And everyone, obviously, wants to capitalize on any change (who would choose to have a negative result from a decision?). If someone wants to claim a crisis represents an opportunity go ahead and do so … but please recognize that it is an indirect extended relationship. And in doing so you could be doing a disservice to people because it ignores what a crisis is truly about – survival.
I do believe dealing with a crisis has a lot to do with attitude <which is possibly where many people get confused with this whole opportunity thing>.
A Pollyanna attitude? Nope.
Someone wrote: “Welcoming personal setbacks as rich opportunities for growth can help you survive them. Does that seem like a twisted point of view? After all, problems make us miserable, right? Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled (Touchstone, 2003), considers them a gift — if you look at them in a deeper, less reactive manner. Indeed, they can give us clear perspective.”
That is a bunch of bullhockey <bullshit>.
A crisis is just that. A crisis. A dangerous moment. A precarious moment.
Should we be seeking opportunities in the middle of a frickin’ crisis? Nope.
We should be seeking survival.
And that is where attitude comes in. Not “lets find the opportunity” or some baloney like that <or find the lemonade out of the lemons> but an attitude capturing a strength of character <I will be strong and overcome> and resiliency <survive>. Afterwards maybe you can look back and discover the opportunities that were an outcome from the crisis (although this has a slightly masochistic point of view in that from pain comes pleasure that kind of creeps me out) but when in a crisis … just deal with it.
Have a good attitude and explore all the possibilities/opportunities … once you have managed the experience itself.
Dealing with a true crisis takes character. HOW you deal with a crisis says almost as much as what you do to deal with a crisis. A crisis is a gauntlet. You have to have strength of character. And strength in resiliency. Please don’t measure yourself when dealing with a crisis by what opportunity you discovered from the crisis … measure yourself by how you survived.
It is a ‘precarious moment’ … a ‘crucial moment’ … a ‘dangerous moment.’
<East & West agree on this>
Seek to survive the moment. Don’t seek the opportunity for god’s sake. Just try and be aware should an opportunity arise <as you survive>. Leave the ‘opportunistic crisis management approach’ to people who write books and pontificate<but, please do not buy the books and live your life by all their bullshit>.
And don’t misuse the Chinese definition of crisis. Because that is where this whole rant started. I am all for seeking opportunities and I have a shitload, too much, experience dealing with crises. But I will be honest … my first response in any crisis is “survival”. Once I can see, or sense, we will survive hen, yeah, I will most likely scan the horizon for some opportunities. But survival first.