“Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.

Anton Chekhov


Despite what you may hear as you wander down the hallways of business <assuming anyone wanders in offices anymore>, not everything is a crisis nor are there as many crises as there are claimed. This leads me to a couple of things.

  • Why do we seemingly want so many crises?
  • Why do we, so many business people, quote “when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity”.

I will address the former by beginning with that latter.

One of the most misused, and misrepresented, Chinese words, is the word for crisis. The word, 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.” Therein lies 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.

Which leads me to business’s love of crisis rhetoric.

Now. I’ll admit. There are a shitload of precarious moments in business, but not as many as some people would make you think. In fact. I admit I find it slightly odd in today’s business world every single mistake or hiccup/interruption in the status quo is labeled a crisis. On the other hand, maybe that is my explanation to the oddity. Because they really aren’t true crisis, if we act like it’s a crisis, we tend to depend on the ideas lying around. Yeah. ‘Crisis’ almost demands the safest solution possible. And the most typical safest ideas lying around are “what can we learn from the past (or did in the past).” So maybe we use crisis so we don’t have to think. Well. That sucked to type.

Crisis or no crisis the truth is that in most businesses it is much easier to defend what can be viewed as ‘reliable’ <either through some analytics or dubious ties to some past work> than it is to defend an idea in a new form which only seems valid in the context it will be used. This happens because most people arrive in a leadership position having become experts at rummaging through the past to map out the future. They always have empirical data, almost always have some benchmark, and offer some nebulous reliability in the form of concrete learning. It creates the impressions that the concept “what could be” is the fuzzy thinking of the inexperienced business person. And this is why I circle back to ‘everything is a crisis situation’ because if everything is shaped as a crisis situation than anyone espousing reliability will be elevated.

Now. If you ever wonder why great decision makers should be paid some inordinate amount of money, reread that. Great decision makers see the past, the present AND the future and envision the mosaic better than most of us. They understand the situation is simply a fraction of what is and what will be. They understand the, well, “law of the situation’ as well as situational awareness. They don’t get trapped in seemingly safe solutions, but thrive in the open range of possibilities from the precarious moment.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out, as a corollary, this should also help explain why so many people make incredibly bad decisions. It is difficult to accept every moment, every situation, every success and every failure is contextual because it makes ‘learning from the past’ almost seem like an inordinate waste of time.

That said. When a situation is emergent the context shapes the solution <not the other way around>. Well. That sounds like a crisis to most people. It sounds like an evil storm insanely howling and raging outside a window that is open.


“Oh, How insanely outside the window

О,   как   безумно   за       окном


Howls and rages the evil storm,

Ревёт, бушует  буря злая”

Alexander Blok


“Every advantage is temporary.”

Katerina Stoykova Klemer


Anyway. I rationalize why we make everything a crisis because then it creates a sense of survival. What I mean by that is there is a sense of success simply by surviving what is labelled a crisis and that through surviving the crisis they, well, just found a better way to survive. And that’s not being opportunistic or even being good in a crisis. That is simply survival instinct.


Life constantly gives you opportunities and, yes, gives you crises on occasion and what they have in common is that both offer an opportunity 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. Ponder.

Written by Bruce