Chaos & Opportunity (Part 1): Learning Through Adversity

A disaster is such a terrible thing to waste.  Sounds odd doesn’t it?  However, it’s true.  When a disaster occurs, there is an opportunity to gain new insights and help build stronger business continuity or disaster recovery plans.  In fact, the name of this blog is taken from the Chinese character for disaster.  It’s made up of two characters; one meaning Chaos and the other meaning Opportunity.  Is there something the ancient Chinese civilization knew that we have yet to learn?  It appears so.

In a three part article (or should I say blog?), I’ll be looking at some various ways that corporations can learn from adversity.  Not just from the perspective of what is occurring within the corporation experiencing the disaster situation but what other elements might come into play.  For example, how a chaos situation can suddenly bring to light new leaders and bring about the downfall and disillusionment of managers that have been leaders in the past.  Also, understanding that not only is there opportunity for the impacted corporation but knowing that there is opportunity for other corporations watching how a company is responding to their crisis situation.

The three articles are as follows:

1 – Chaos & Opportunity (Part I): Learning Through Adversity

2 – Chaos & Opportunity (Part II): The Collapse of Reason

3 – Chaos & Opportunity (Part III): Observing Observers

These three articles took some time to develop and will be – in part – a section in the new book I’m writing.  The title is still to be developed so I won’t embarrass myself with putting something here…yet.  That should explain the delay in posting during the last week or so.  I’ve left out bits and pieces, such as detailed examples to illustrate points and in some spots I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg on a few topics, rather that digging into the details.  …I can’t give everything away.

Let’s get started with the first part of Chaos & Opportunity: Learning Through Adversity


As noted prior, the ancient Chinese knew something about disasters.  They understood that every disaster offers a person, a community and corporation, the opportunity to learn from the situation.  Hence, the Chinese character for disaster has two symbols; one meaning chaos (or danger) and the other meaning opportunity.  This is insightful because it offers corporations the chance to learn from mistakes or disasters that are occurring around the globe.  They don’t necessarily need to be happening and impacting the corporation itself.  A badly managed situation can be occurring half way around the world yet there is still the potential to watch what is occurring and learn from it.  How?

If the disaster or situation is such that the media is reporting on it then it is going to be on the news every night, or on TV, or on the internet sites and possibly reported through social networking sites.  It will be posted where ever news articles are posted and where ever people gather to chat – especially if it’s a ‘juicy’ disaster.  By that I mean one that captures the hearts and minds of people around the world, either in a positive or negative manner. 

Let’s face it; we can learn from others mistakes.  If you watch someone do something stupid, like lean over to far on a ladder while cleaning the rain gutters of fall leaves, you won’t make the same mistake.  Hopefully, you’ll realize that every so often you have to get down of the ladder and move it along the length of the gutter to clean it, rather than leaning over to far and causing an accident.  Learn from the mistakes of others.

For corporations this can also be of benefit when a competitor has a disaster. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a competitor experiencing a disaster for a corporation to gain some learning insights. It can be any company going through a situation.  If there’s a disaster or crisis in the headlines, then BCM professionals, practitioners and corporate leaders in general, can watch and learn how the situation is being handled.

They may be instances where a corporate spokesperson is not answering questions in an effective manner.  What they are doing is causing suspicion and doubt amongst reports and those listening to the spokesperson.  What happens then?  The reports begin to dig deeper into the story to figure out what’s the real story and why isn’t the corporation providing the specifics of the situation?  Do they have something to hide?  Are they trying to sweep something under the rug? 

For those watching the situation play out, you can notice how others are responding, what is working well, and what isn’t.  Take those learning’s and review you own plans and processes to see if what you’re developed is any better.  Does it need changing so that your organization doesn’t make the same mistakes as the one you’re watching on TV or listening to on the radio – or reading on the internet. 

You don’t want to go through the same things as this company does.  If you experience the same situation or like-minded situation, you want to be better prepared that just ‘winging it’ when reporters come knocking on the door asking questions. 

The spokesperson is but one area that can be looked at and by no means is it the only component of the BCM program that can be reviewed and amended.  Watch how the corporation is ‘actioning’ and implementing their continuity strategies.  Are there opportunities to learn from there?  For example, if a corporation said they would have their operations up and running at an alternate site in 24 hours, do actually have it up and running in those 24 hours?  Did they take into account that their alternate site was on the other side of the province/state and many staff members didn’t want to travel there.  They didn’t want to travel because they’d be too far from family and friends.  In some cases there may be single parents who simply can’t – and won’t – go so far from their child(ren). 

Has your company made the same assumption?  Meaning, you can develop plans all you want to and have all sorts of buy in and participation but, when things happen did you assume that everyone would simply up and move based on the corporation need?  That might be another lesson worth looking into.  For the corporation that experiences this, as noted above, their comment about being up and running in 24 hours is no longer valid and now they must stand in front of the media and public trying to explain why.  They now need to try and calm the angst and confusion being experienced by their clients, partners and customers who have been told they will be serviced within a specific timeframe but now find they won’t.  How long will in additional time will it take and will the clients, partners and customers still want to do business with you if you make this mistake? 

Review your own plans to find out if this is the case for your organization.  It may be that you have all sort of continuity strategies to rebuild department processes and IT components, yet you don’t have any plan on how to actually get the people – the right people – to the alternate location(s) they need to be in.  For lack of a better term, you may discover that after reviewing the mistakes of other corporations and what they are experiencing that you have everything you need in place (Great!) but you don’t have a “People Relocation” plan to actually utilize the plans and processes you’ve developed.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know that ahead of time rather than at the time of a disaster?  I’m sure it would be.

It’s not all doom and gloom by reviewing your plans.  You may find that some of the things you’ve developed are working well.  If they are, capitalize on it and turn it into a good story rather than focusing on the negative aspects.  A corporation can experience a disaster – either yours or another – and there can be many positive aspects or human success stories, which can come out of it. 

Let’s say a corporation has had a major disaster and there is significant harm to the facility and to employees located in the damaged building.  Yes, it’s terrible that something has occurred (I’m not suggesting otherwise) but if the company has experienced situations where employees have saved other employees from danger or there are some amazing survival stories, build on those.  If these types of stories occur, the public is more willing to focus on the human side of the tragedy than wondering why their order hasn’t been delivered.  It sounds almost like a corporation is denying the situation but in fact it’s not.  It is admitting the tragedy but focusing on the human aspect instead and that is what people (media, public etc) will focus on first (More on that in Part III)

Does your plan put people first?  Does it have a human face or is it focused on the technologies and network infrastructures?  Even if is focused on technologies because – and let’s be honest, not every disaster situation may be related to people – it could be an IT disaster – there is still opportunity to review these plans to see if you’d be able to rebuild/restore and recover better than, or to the same degree as, the corporation experiencing the disaster. 

From every disaster, regardless of the trigger or where it is located, there is the potential for every other organization not involved in the situation, to review their BCM programs, plans and processes to enhance them from the learning experiences of those who have had a disaster.  Just believing that ‘we can do better’ won’t be of any help.  Pull out the plans and make notes where you can improve your documents and processes.  Make not of those things that you have captured and intended to do the same as the corporation with the disaster.  If an identify activity didn’t work for them, will it still work for your organization or do you need to change it so that it will work for you – and not go through the same headaches. 

If you’re driving down the road – one you travel all the time – heading to the cottage but the road is blocked by a fallen tree or car accident; do you not find other ways to get around the situation and still get to your destination.  You may find new things – scenery, wildlife, shops, towns – that you’d never known before.  But what you’ve done is now developed a contingency plan for when that road isn’t available again.  You’ve learned something new and improved your chances of getting to your destination unhindered.  You’ve learned from that initial chaotic experience with a blocked road and discovered new ways to get to where you need to go.

Every chaotic situation has an opportunity associated with it. 


The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at **



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s