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Opportunities in Crisis

Warren Carter | 16.03.2020

In a crisis, be aware of the danger - but recognize the opportunity.

John F. Kennedy once said, 

“The Chinese use two brush strokes
to write the word 'crisis.'
One brush stroke stands for danger;
the other for opportunity.
In a crisis, be aware of the danger –
but recognize the opportunity.”

Perhaps these words are more relevant now than when they were spoken...?

With the US-China tariff fight, the coronavirus and the stock market's worst drop in years, we now have ourselves a real global crisis.  Adding to the myriad economic pressures is the need for social distancing to minimize the spread of this virus and that presents even more challenges to contend with.

A crisis by its nature creates disruption.  A global crisis magnifies this disruption many times across geographic boundaries and in doing so creates new needs and problems to be solved within the population.  These new needs are innovation accelerators.

Within North America, some 70% of manufacturers have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 and are now seeking alternative supply sources to those in China.  Many of our manufacturing clients are reporting stopped raw material shipments and partial plant shutdowns. In Mexico, this situation is forcing the maquiladora industry to undertake a greater exploration of alternative suppliers.  The leadership in these companies are now scrambling resources to solve this decades long problem that has ever greater pressure for an innovative solution.

Crisis events like the current pandemic changes the risk/reward balance.  Under normal circumstances, both companies and people lean towards the comfort found in the status quo.  In other words, if it's not broke don't mess with it.  The fear of failure is often the primary cause of not experimenting or taking a deeper dive into assessing a better way.  In a crisis like our current one, the real risk is the cost of doing nothing.  Under crisis circumstances, people become conscious of having nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In normal times, we awake to start the day by looking at texts and emails and finding competing and sometimes conflicting priorities.  In crisis, we quickly shift our focus to do what we need to do to prioritize and focus our attention and resources on whats needed to survive or overcome our greatest challenges.  Talented people see crisis as an enabler of eliminating distractions and focusing on a common goal in such a way as to remove failure as an option.

Any organization in crisis needs managers that understand how to assess risk, measure reward and focus on the task at hand.  Your average manager accepts boundary conditions for what they are while your high performers understand that someone has to step up and find a solution.  It's in crisis that leaders seize the license to ignore the status quo and pursue something better.

Global pandemics have come and gone throughout time and we certainly hope this one will go sooner than later.  All that being said, we are very encouraged by what we hear from the many talented people we have grown to know in our 21+ plus years in recruiting.  It is those people who are hard at work leading the way for their companies to innovate, create and invent to solve the problems their organizations are facing.  It reminds us of this old, timeless adage…

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”