How is your crisis going?

How is your crisis going?

We may not have the capital we once had, but we can still show confidence in the way we respond to the crises we face.

Robert Brooks
Robert Brooks

A few months ago, speaking to a presumably sympathetic columnist, an important and influential federal official declared his own philosophy for managing in difficult times. “Never allow a crisis to go to waste … they are opportunities to do big things,” he declared with an obviously confident air.

Personally, I find this statement appalling — a Machiavellian reaction to a grave situation, and the sort of response one attributes to slumlords and loan sharks. It is out of bounds for a government official in a democratic republic. But in fact, by the time I heard this quote it had been in circulation for a week or more, and was being discussed with just as much admiration as shock. Some people, it seems, were excited about a crisis that will allow them to realize various goals that laws or good judgement would not allow them to do before. Panic had been in the air for months by that time, and the world had become accustomed to crises.

Ever since last fall, when the world’s greatest financial institutions began to be revealed as less than great, we’ve all been operating in crisis mode. As the quote above makes plain, some people are a lot more welcoming of a crisis than others. Once imperious bankers and executives were not so shaken that they shied from accepting government support. Politicians see the crisis as the justification for extraordinary moves and expenditures, some of them questionably necessary, questionably effective, and questionably legal. Our crisis is their opportunity, you see.

To be sure, for many people and organizations the financial collapse is a critical moment. The “Big 3” automakers are in trouble, but they have been at or near the point of financial and/or organizational crisis for several years now. Being cut off from capital resources and consumer demand, the automakers appear to have run out of options to avoid their crisis.

And the automakers’ crisis, for obvious reasons, is pushing automotive suppliers into red-alert. These crises have far-reaching consequences: depending on your situation and response, it could lead to further organizational or personal crises.

However, at its heart this is not a social or a governmental crisis. It does not change the standards of behavior or the authority of government, unless of course we surrender our standards and rights by the way we respond to the crises we face.

What we’re facing, for better or worse, is a crisis of capital — a cash shortage — that has transpired into a crisis of confidence. The first of these requires a market correction; the second requires an attitude adjustment.

Some people and organizations have adjusted well. Certainly some forgers feel the sting of the automotive industry collapse, but others are moving strategically to supply forgings to nuclear, aerospace, and wind-energy markets, among others. They’re not letting the “crisis” dissuade them from taking advantage of financing, engineering, and fabricating partners that are willing to proceed, confidently. This might be called “turning a crisis into an opportunity.”

Individuals and organizations may not have the capital resources that they once had, or believed they had. But, they can show confidence nevertheless. They can be creative in their marketing, resourceful in their managerial practices, aggressive in their pursuit of new business opportunities — and vigorous in defense of their own rights and resources. Those who lack confidence are the ones most likely to panic during a crisis, and to be victimized by the opportunism of another.

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