How We Make Sense of a World That Doesn’t
Mindset determines – to a large extent – how people cope with uncertainty. As crisis advisors we have been involved with numerous unwanted events and we make no illusions: nobody is completely ready for crisis and its uncertainty, no matter how well-prepared they are. When things get rough, all we are left with are our past experiences, colleagues, principles, skills and mindset. We have got to adjust our mindset to let us deal with uncertainty in the best way we can.
Our own mindset on everything related to crisis is shaped by our theoretical background, challenges in our own private lives, experiences as advisors during hundreds of physical and non-physical crisis situations, interactions with colleagues and clients, and countless hours of talking about life. Not only does it define who we are as an organisation and as individuals, it also explains how we approach everything we do.
Here are three insights we use to make sense of a world that doesn’t.
Our reality is messier and more complex than we like to admit
Our brain is wired to think in a very linear way (based on taking “logical steps”), which is why we generally prefer order over chaos. However, witnessing hundreds of crisis situations, each unique and complex, we have to admit that, if the world is ordered, the form of the order can be beyond our understanding. When people assume the ‘perfect world’ perspective (that the world is logical, mechanical, fair and proportionate), we underestimate the enormous complexity of people, and societies, and the organisations they create.
At PM we believe in the ‘Normal Chaos’ paradigm, an innovative theoretical framework developed by PM researchers Dr. Mike Lauder and Dr. Hugo Marynissen. Normal Chaos Theory states that the feeling of the world being disordered and chaotic is normal and that we should not fear it (for within that “disorder” will be, as yet, unrecognised order). We should be aware that, due to the shear complexity of life, detailed and extensive plans may not delay nor solve crisis. We should realise that people make mistakes and that this is also normal. We should therefore understand that linear procedures cannot prevent or solve every complex problem in our chaotic world.
It is our job as crisis advisors to make people feel more at ease in the midst of this “chaos”. We offer them advice, support and small ‘bubbles of control’ to find comfort in these chaotic situations. It is only chaos after all and that is quite normal.
Improving resilience does not happen overnight
We bolster individuals, teams and organisations for chaos. We make them stronger so they can cope with uncertainty. Sadly, just like Rome was not built in a day, organisations does not improve their organisational resilience overnight. This should be no surprise: during moments of stress and uncertainty, we fall back on past experiences, memories and habits that have been established and reinforced in our brain for years. While announcing a new crisis plan or organising a media training is very useful to comply with regulators or to train skills and build confidence, it will rarely change the way people think, collaborate and act during crisis.
Ever noticed that large-scale crisis exercises do not seem to have the desired result? That they discourage your organisation more than improving it, despite all the efforts you and your colleagues put into it? Does it seem like the activities that have to prepare your team for a crisis are never a priority? Sounds familiar? You are not alone.
Building organisational resilience is a marathon, not a sprint. We strive to draw out crisis programs with room for talking more about risks and crises, practising more, simulating more, having more “what if” conversations with your team, testing more, preparing more, evaluating more and making adjustments. We do so involving the client’s organisation, starting with key players in the areas of operational crisis response, strategic crisis management and crisis communications. Our PM programs have proven to build organisational resilience in a structured manner, changing people’s minds about crisis along the way.
Crisis is all about doing the right things in the right way
“All management is crisis management” as the saying goes. Think about it: crisis management is exactly the same as daily management, but with more pressure and less room for trial and error learning. More than ever, it becomes crucial to do the “right things right” during a crisis. But what exactly are the right things to do?
At PM we take great pride in our efficiency and accuracy. Our team adheres to the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule or the law of the vital few. Pareto, economist from the 19th century and dear friend of PM, states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In other words, some of your tasks or actions make up for a larger part of the desired outcome than others. Working on those 20% is what really matters to us – no matter if it is during a crisis or when we are preparing a course or doing consultancy.
Our mindset on crisis keeps on evolving as we do as individuals and as an organisation. No, the complete handbook on crisis management has never been written and we’ll doubt that it will ever see the light of day. One thing is certain: we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
(Illustrations on this page by Kaatje Marynissen.)