edge of crisis

Crisis on the edge – Part II

January 31, 2019

Critical takeaways

  • Nature doesn’t have clear-cut edges and neither do crises.
  • Taking an edgeless, long-term view of a crisis improves our ability to learn after an event and also helps us prepare and improve our actions beforehand.
  • Here are five ways that an ‘edgeless’ mindset will help you better prepare and give you a significant advantage in the period before a crisis hits.


We previously asked the question ‘do crises have edges?’, based on the idea that nature doesn’t have edges and there’s not as much of a clear-cut difference between things as we might think. I believe that crises are similar: there’s not as clear a beginning or end as we might think. Instead, crises are ‘edgeless’. By understanding that, we can ensure that we learn the right lessons after a crisis.

But this ‘edglessness’ also has implications in the period prior to a crisis. Understanding that there’s not a clear, ‘hard start’ to a crisis will allow you to develop a mindset that helps you better prepare and act beforehand.

I believe that there are five key ways that this edgeless mindset can give you a significant advantage in the run-up to a crisis. You might even be able to avoid a crisis altogether.

First, the lessons learned will be deeper and look at root cause and will lead to greater improvement. Not only will this improve your in-the-room response, but you will be able to see how any preparatory actions could have been improved; how your training and exercises can be more effective; or how you should change your views on what to do in the aftermath. This broader view of the lessons-learned will improve your crisis readiness across the board.

(But don’t forget that you need to ensure that the right lessons are being learned in the first place.)

Secondly, taking a long view mentally prepares the crisis management team for an extended endeavor that might not have a clean-cut end. This change of mindset at the outset will significantly improve the ability of those involved to cope with a response that could last for months. Even though the high-intensity, immediate response won’t go on that long, the litigation, structural changes and reputation rebuilding will.

This places an immense amount of stress on everyone involved and the crisis will “win” if people burn out, get tired or simply give up in the face of what seems to be a never-ending struggle back to respectability. A long-term mindset won’t remove all of this stress, but starting with a realistic attitude will make the journey easier.

Thirdly, our pattern recognition will improve significantly. This long “edgeless” view of what happened before the crisis management team mobilized allows us to increase our ‘library’ of templates or patterns to apply to future situations. Moreover, we will have a better idea of how a particular template played out in reality. That way, we are less likely to select a course of action that’s a tactical success but fails in the long-term: we will have more patterns to compare it to.

The fourth point is closely related to pattern recognition and is probably the most important.

Taking the long-term view helps us identify the warning signs that signify a crisis is brewing. We can respond much earlier if we identify the warnings or ‘flags’ which signal that an event is developing. These flags will stand out as you examine the run-up to other crises and you can use these alongside our risk framework to start to map out how situations develop.

These flags help you respond more quickly: you might even have enough time to tackle the root cause early and to prevent the crisis in the first place.  But even if you aren’t prescient enough to avoid the problem completely, you can still buy yourself enough time to be proactive, spin up the response more quickly and start to tackle the problem as early as possible.

Finally, taking a long-term view will help you remain aligned with your mission and values. It is much easier to do these justice if you are planning and responding with a long-term perspective. Having your values in mind early on will help you stick to your crisis ‘rhumb line’ throughout the crisis and stay on track. This mindset also helps you avoid doing something that’s expedient in the short-term but doesn’t fit your long-term values.

The key thing with all of these suggestions is that you get none of the benefits if you think that there’s a clear beginning and end to a crisis.

That’s short term, finite game thinking: that a crisis is a set engagement between two teams based on an agreed set of rules where one team will win and it will end at a fixed point. Much as I wish that were the case and that we could cleanly “win” at crisis, my years in this business tell me otherwise.

My advice is to forget the idea that there’s a clear start and finish to a crisis. Rather, think of these as edgeless, blurry situations which evolve over time and take weeks or months to close out.

So take the long view. Accept that the moment you realize you are in crisis is weeks, maybe months or years, after the point where the crisis actually began. You need to prepare and act accordingly.

This long, edgeless mindset will allow you to learn better lessons, improve your performance and move to a proactive stance, maybe even allow you to avoid the crisis in the first place.


Filed under: Blog


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.