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

Not everything goes to plan for a corporation – or an individual – during a disaster.  If it did, it probably wouldn’t be a disaster or crisis.  In addition, to honest, how many responses to disaster go as planned.  Since each disaster will have its own characteristics, it’s a little tough to be able to pre-determine every action to be implemented.  You certainly can’t predict every issue that may arise.  Yes, you can probably determine quite a few common issues that are sure to crop up but if every disaster has its own dictates, then there is no way to address everything in advance and have it documented out. 

From personal experience, I have seen leaders of areas not review their continuity plans or strategies when a disaster strikes or when a new issue is encountered.  In one instance, a manager stated their plan wasn’t any good because of the new issue (an unknown unknown) that occurred.  Though the plan for his department could address many other aspects of the situation – and were actually implemented at the time – he decided that the entire plan was no good and didn’t both to refer to it any longer.  As stated earlier, no plan can ever address every single minute detail that a crisis will uncover. 

Instead of learning from the situation – finding opportunity during the chaos – and making note to add it to his departments Business Continuity Plan (BCP), he rashly decided the plan was not good and didn’t refer to it any longer.  In his mind, this also meant that no other BCM component was worth following either; that there must be something wrong with them, as he believed was wrong with his.  Fortunately, other managers didn’t share his point of view, as he was becoming unreasonable and was slowly collapsing the well-orchestrated response to the crisis – at least up to that time.

This same manager – and few others that worked with him – were no longer following established communication protocols.  These protocols had been practices by the Crisis Team members and everyone in the corporation had an understanding of how the flow worked; a sort of ‘Military Style’ of communication, so that everyone reported up to their captain or general.  In short it allowed those working on issues and trying to resolve them, not to be interrupted by others, other than their captain or general.  It cut back on the frustration and the level of confusion, worked well, and was even exercised when the corporation had large “Simulation” exercises.  The project team for the exercise was made up of the Crisis Team and they utilized their strategies; including the communication protocol.  Except, this manager didn’t want to follow it anymore and began to cause confusion and frustration by working outside the guidelines (and he had been part of the validation of the protocols). 

Now during good times it’s good business to have open doors of communication between units/departments and not lock themselves away in a silo.  But in a disaster, people need to understand how, when, who and what to communicate when so that issues and the progress made (status) aren’t dropped, misplaced or assigned incorrectly. What’s worse, some issues may get resolved and never communicated to the right teams who are still waiting to hear the issue has been fixed.

What this situation did identify were some people who were able to respond to the situation calmly and in a cool fashion, who might otherwise have not been identified as leaders.  Chaos can help identify who can stand up to the plate and who can’t.  Sometimes it isn’t always a well-established person; sometimes it’s an otherwise unknown who can stand up and take control of the situation.  For all the confusion this one manager was causing, his team leader took charge of his area and they worked remarkably well under the pressure – since it was his area that was most impacted by the situation.  The corporation had found a new leader during chaos.

It’s reminder back to the time when Winston Churchill was for the most part of the 1930’s on the peripheral of British politics yet when World War II broke out, he ended up becoming one of the greatest leaders in history.  FYI, Churchill is one of my favourite leaders to study – his ups and downs.

Collapsing Reason will also occur when a situation is ignored altogether in hopes it goes away.  What is the reasoning for that?  I don’t think anyone can truly answer that, as each situation will be different.  To illustrate the point, the Canadian Federal Government has tried to ignore – or discredit – reports of Afghan prisoners being tortured by the Afghan police once the Canadian troops handed them over.  Instead of looking into the situation, they are continually trying to ignore the situation and throw everyone off the trail.  Still, there have been reports, documents and eyewitness accounts verifying the abuses.  The hope is that the longer the government tries to ignore the situation the more people are digging into it.  Ignoring isn’t working. It’s not reasonable to believe that if an issue is ignored it will go away.  That’s wrong, the issue is still there waiting to be uncovered. 

There are even instances where there is an attempt to distort the true nature of a disaster to suit the needs or desire of the corporation because it doesn’t want to be seen in a negative light.  This doesn’t help either.  There is the perception that corporations can change the way a disaster unfolds but a flood is a flood is a flood.  No amount of word play is going to change the fact it has occurred and has (possibly) killed people, animals and destroyed land when the cause may have been the negligence of a company maintaining a damn up river. 

Another cause for the collapse of reason is the focus given to single issues.  With chaos comes opportunity and that opportunity doesn’t always need to be directly attributed to the specific issue identified.  In most disaster there is more than a single issue associated with the situation.  Often, it is a myriad of things that need to be considered and focused upon – all at the same time. 

If a corporation focuses on a single entity – let’s say technology recovery – then what is happening with the people?  Client relations?  Media?  They need to work together and this is how the opportunities are found.  Are the right links in place between all the processes that are allowing for a controlled and effective response to a disaster.  If focus is on a single item, you may not find these opportunities.  A corporation has to be aware of what’s going on around it – at all times – to find the opportunities it can leverage to makes itself beiger, better and stronger. 

When disaster occurs, this is not the time to try and figure things out from scratch – it’s time to put into practice the processes a corporation has been developing and maintaining (hopefully) over time.  Chaos can cause panic but it can also cause the collapse of reason and the collapse of processes required during a disaster, which if not followed and exercised, will create an even greater level of anxiety and chaos for a corporation. 

Where is the opportunity then? 

It may be too late to find it because reason has collapsed.


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 **


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