“You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”
Rahm Emanuel (White House Chief of Staff, 2008-2010)

The Definition of Crisis:

The Piper alpha oil-drilling platform exploded in July, 1988. 166 people lost their lives. One of the survivors, Andy Mochan, lived by leaping 15 stories into the frigid North Sea. In his words, “it was either fry or jump, so I jumped.” Andy found himself in an unthinkable position, one leading to imminent disaster if he didn’t take action, but with no clear path to success.

His ordeal has been adapted into the burning platform metaphor, (Burning Platform Article) which focuses on the agonizing decisions businesses need to make when confronted with an imminent crisis. The key feature of a crisis is that, when it happens, you can’t ignore it. You must change your behaviour and take action. That’s often the source of panic. The qualities of a burning-platform crisis are:

-There is a real and immediate danger that you can’t ignore.
-There are a limited number of difficult choices.
-The choices are irreversible.
-All choices have a high chance of failure.

Knowing when a Crisis is Coming:

Dont Let a Crisis Go To WasteYour business is going to have a crisis. Hopefully it’s not today, maybe not this year, but it will. If I were talking over beer I’d ask you to read my lips: “you are not immune.” To paraphrase Norman Vincent Peale, when God gives you an opportunity he wraps it in a problem. A savvy business person can turn impending doom into imminent profit if he knows how to roll with the punches.

If you look for the right signs, you’ll usually be able to tell when a crisis is closing in:

-Stay aware of the hard realities of your industry. Some business people think that their business has the ability to resist market turmoil. They’re usually wrong.

-Crises do damage by initiating a downward spiral of knee-jerk decisions. The more contingencies you plan for ahead of time, the better chance you’ll break the spiral.

-Get out of your office and don’t just rely on official updates to know what’s happening. Start conversations in the lunchroom and make your employees comfortable telling you things

If you’re evaluating your businesses’ success by revenue or even gross margin, you need other metrics. Keep your finger on 3 pulses at all times:

  1. 1. Your profit margin trend. The number at the bottom is the one that counts. Create a trends chart for this period compared to a few previous periods. If the trend slopes down, find out why.
  2. 2. Listen to industry experts. Consume podcasts, blogs, and whitepapers on the state of your industry. Ask the right questions over the Friday afternoon pint. Don’t be blindsided.
  3. 3. Listen to your customers. Are they happy with your products and, more importantly, your business trajectory? Do you conduct a Net Promoter Score survey at least annually? If you don’t or if you haven’t heard of it, start this year. Find your customers’ normal level of satisfaction so you know if it changes.

A Crisis is just an Opportunity that has to happen Now:

Kung-Fu is the art of turning an opponent’s fierce momentum against him. A burning platform crisis will hit your business like a roundhouse kick. If you lock your knees and absorb the momentum, it will crush you. If you anticipate and maneuver, you can land back on your feet ready to hit back.

If you don’t see it coming, you’re probably in trouble. If you do see it coming, what you do is about perspective. You can be afraid of the kick, hide and start updating your resume, or you can see it as a golden opportunity to take the risks you might otherwise never take.

Comfort makes us complacent. Let an impending crisis make you hungry to innovate. Change more than products. Use the momentum of the crisis to drive a sustained, cultural change. Be the first one out of the trenches leading this charge.
Pressure makes us creative. Explore avenues of innovation that you were nervous of before. Do your homework and be prepared to take a risk.

Make changes that are going to matter to your customer.
Set fire to the platform before anyone else can. Control the direction of the flames and stay ahead of the crisis.

Keep your finger on the 3 pulses. Plan contingencies. Anticipate the kick and what your next move will be. Turn the crisis into an opportunity, and you’ll be the one left standing.

(original sources: https://hbr.org/2012/12/how-to-anticipate-a-burning-platform