THE POWER OF CRISIS
The concept of crisis, turnaround, re-engineering — CHANGE — seems to strike terror in the hearts and minds of business owners and team members. Fear of having made a mistake, fear of failure, the need to blame all seem to come together to create a conundrum. What if I told you that crisis and bumps are normal parts of business and, in some cases, can be life savers?
I’m not sure when the perception of making mistakes became a death sentence. One reason could be the fact that the brain will take in bad news in 3 to 4 seconds and good news in 12 seconds.(*) The negative gets more attention, more press so to speak. Negatives, mistakes, less desirable conditions you might find yourself in are like “fast food” — easy and quick to eat and it get you by. A more nutritious meal might have taken more time, thought, money and planning, but it would be much better for you. Perhaps, we need to wait a bit to allow the positive to come into view — like the punch line of a joke.
Merriam Webster definitions of “crisis”:
“The turning point for better or worse in an acute disease or fever”
“the decisive moment (as in a literary plot)”
“an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome…”
My definition that I first shared in the article “What’s Your Early Warning System?”:
“We define a ‘crisis’ or ‘turnaround’ situation as an environment that, perhaps, very subtly over time, has lost ground in creating value for the business as a whole. In this way, we try to anticipate crisis by looking for more subtle indicators before we run out of money or the bank calls or a lingering cough turns into pneumonia.”
Needless to say, crisis has many meanings and many faces but the message is that “crisis” is an important, if not essential, part of our lives and our businesses. When discussing health, for example, a “healing crisis” is a turning point — hopefully, a good one. In business, it is an indicator of transformation, a guidepost and welcome partner in change. If you study how businesses evolve, they all go through development phases as they change and morph. In each of these developmental shifts, the business owners and the business itself will go through a crisis of change — in which they have to do something different because their behavior or their skill base or their leadership perspective must move to another level. Without change, the “healing crisis” goes the other direction and the business slides back and may even fail.
Crisis is actually our friend and, in many ways, a benevolent companion. Like all things in life, that which can feed you, love you, befriend you can also hurt you. Ignore an indication of crisis, stifle it, abuse it and it will come back in a fury.
Let’s look at a simple crisis — learning to walk — to see if we can embrace the purity of it for change in our lives. Walking is a major developmental leap for babies. It takes most babies about 1,000 hours of practice from the time they pull themselves upright to the time they can walk unaided. (**)
When a baby crawls and wants to walk, what does it do? Repeatedly, it stands, falls down, stands up, falls down again and, finally, learns to walk then run. Well, there is surely a crisis here, a turning point, but this is also growth. Do we ever see the child as making a mistake, doing it wrong? Should it be punished? What we do is applaud efforts and offer encouragement to keep that child trying.
So why is it so easy to punish ourselves or others? Haven’t we learned that nothing works perfectly? Everything needs to be course-corrected. As I write this article, I know that my editor is going to make edits that make it better. Change must happen. We are not miracle workers. We are part of a dynamic process (life) that changes all the time. It is absolutely amazing that we get as much right as we do.
The power of crisis is our friend. Like the child crawling, falling then walking, the process, a crisis of sorts, is there with us, moving us forward until we reach our next step of development. It is not there to hurt or harm, and it is surely not a mistake, an actionable event. It is a double-edged sword with mistakes. We must make mistakes to learn but, if you make too many mistakes, you can fail. We have found that, if we can embrace change, realize that crisis is our friend and come from a place where we are always in the mode of “creating value” or advancing the process, we are riding alongside crisis, working together, while our mistakes move us forward, not into backward spirals. We want to be like the toddler, moving with the changes, embracing the crisis as a partner in success, not worried that we are making a mistake while shifting to the next level.
Let’s see if we can ask ourselves every day: How can we move forward, even half a step, and embrace all that we are learning? Even the mistakes?
Before we leave, let’s give making mistakes, even failing, one last look. If you were to interview successful entrepreneurs, you will find that they have failed many times. Thomas Edison said,
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
I remember years ago considering being a CEO of a company, instead of a partner in a consulting firm. I answered a Wall Street Journal ad well within my skill base and experience. I had several conversations with the owner and, yes, while my credentials were exceptional, I had never failed. For him, that was a concern, a risk; he was worried that I might fail on his watch. So what did I do? I amped up my risk taking and have never looked back. I now have a list of challenges and mistakes and many successes that I would not have had without making my mistakes.
* “Why Negative Is Stronger than Positive.” Dr. Mike Bechtle, Conversations about Living On Purpose, http://www.mikebechtle.com/why-negative-is-stronger-than-positive/
** “Learning to Walk”, editors of Parenting, https://www.parenting.com/article/learning-to-walk