« Salience » did you say ?
November 6, 2023

Episode #1 – Crisis management: Learning to navigate the waves

By Hugues Joublin

One of the most common clichés in the field of crisis management is the notion of learning. That we should learn from the crises. As if the mechanisms of salience – that is to say, of emergence – and then of development of the crisis, could be dissected and the causal links definitively and clearly established. 

The most common mistake in the learning process is the rapid and often implicit semantic shift that associates the origin of a crisis with an error – we look for the “original faults”. This simplification can limit our understanding and may be counterproductive to our learning. This view locks events into a very Western Aristotelian logic of opposition, between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lie. It suggests that any crisis must be the result of a mistake, a departure from a defined path, a dysfunction in a normalized, virtuous process.

Alas, the reality is often more complex, and the process that leads to the crisis more obscure than the media portrayal or the post-mortem analyses of well-meaning consultants… Going through difficult events, for a company or individual, is generally to find oneself confronted with a complex reality that goes beyond binary, simplistic oppositions. The retrospective view seeks to reconstruct the sequence of events, but often ignores the double-binds and approximations. It sorts, categorizes and simplifies, and in so doing, it moves away from its objective – learning. For the philosopher Edgard Morin, managing complexity does not mean trying to simplify it, but to apprehend it as it is.

Actually, crisis managers need neither learning nor lessons, but guiding lights and resilience. As a fisherman friend of mine suggested more prosaically: “When at sea in a storm, knowing how to spot the beacons is more useful than wondering why you are there…”. Your reference points must be drawn from action, trial and error, experimentation and the right to make mistakes. These are found in the wanderings of life, and not in the self-righteous reminder of a rule applied a posteriori.

Every crisis develops in a complex empirical dynamic. Blessed is he who follows only a straight path.

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