Crisis Thinking

Sections of this topic

    Training your brain to perform in crisis management mode

    There’s no denying that it takes a great deal of skill to successfully run an organization’s day-to-day operations. However, that mindset and ability doesn’t always translate over to crisis management. Even the most competent of managers can find themselves feeling lost when an ugly situation gets out of control, as it really does take a different kind of thinking to thrive in that environment.

    Management consultant Lucien G. Canton describes crisis management-style thinking as dependent on pattern recognition rather than a structured decision-making process, and shared three steps to increase one’s ability to recognize and assess patterns in an article for

    Direct experience. While there is truly no substitute for actual experience, crises have a way of involving the people least equipped to handle them. The crisis for many will be an once-in-a-lifetime event. However, remember that we are considering patterns, not identical situations, so experience gained in one situation could be applicable to a different one.

    Learning from the experience of others. There are numerous case histories of organizations that have successfully survived crisis. There is even more literature on those that did not. Research demonstrates that reading accounts of other crises and the decisions made during them is almost as effective as gaining direct experience. Reading articles in business magazines, reviewing case studies and after action reports, and viewing documentaries all can increase the patterns available for recall. This is why so many military officers study historical campaigns.

    Simulations. Simulations or exercises combine the best of both worlds. They can be based on hypothetical scenarios or actual scenarios found in after action reports or articles. In addition, they can provide direct experience to participants, allowing them to become familiar with the physiological changes brought on by stress. Even something as simple as a short discussion-based exercise can provide additional pattern sets to decision-makers.

    What do these all boil down to? Experience. Putting yourself in situations, over and over again, where you see actions and their resulting outcomes is the number one way to train your brain to perform when it comes to crisis management mode. Although you’ll never experience or simulate every single possible situation, hard work will mean you’ll always have similar instances to base your thinking on.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]

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