Connected to fail

I am drawn to the lyrics of the song “Circle of Life” from Lion King, having referred to the movie in the previous article

It’s the circle of life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

‘Til we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the circle

The circle of life

This is a rather poignant reminder to the real need of understanding and more importantly communicating, the latent risks that draw us inexplicably to crisis or/and disasters. In 2007, Prof Charles B. Perrow an emeritus professor of sociology at Yale University and visiting professor at Stanford University, brought out a book, The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters. A fascinating approach and also a warning in a sense, he wrote that societies where power/energy, population and the like was highly concentrated, have a higher vulnerability to catastrophe. This has been graphically illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. He ascribed to the notion that multiple and unexpected failures or even catastrophes waiting to happen–are built into our society’s complex systems. The inherent latencies are so connected that they form a circular path of interconnectivity. His theory predicts that failures will occur in multiple and unforeseen ways that are virtually impossible to predict.

As a civilisation we will continue to face risk and at times crisis of varying magnitudes. While latent risks continue to represent an impending existential crisis, the exaggerating factors continue to interact in multiple and mutually reinforcing ways. There are remedial steps, that become more and more clear, and yet make it difficult to effectively address any response to crisis. The key point remains to deal with the very elements that promote or enable a crisis. Further, effective action requires dealing with communicating most if not all the latent failures identified.

An important feature of this is to ensure that there is no poor communication and/or trust between those in control and those at risk. Communication failures are relevant to understanding the propensity for a disaster or a crisis though not as often taking insufficient account of why information is held back or misinformation spread. One of the common features of any corporate crisis management toolkit relies on remade protocols to manage information flows and also to control media-reporting, including who from management will be interviewed, developing a narrative that emphasises rescue or “handling the situation”. This approach does convey a sense of hope and optimism but very largely avoids discussion of how and why the incident occurred. This approach fosters anger and causes an interrogation approach among the affected stakeholders.

However soothing the affected stakeholders, the narrative does not address uncertainties about causation or remedies. Nor does it encourage stakeholder engagement and criticism that is needed. Resilience management is what requires more emphasis of communication in this regard. There are two rather important aspects that require focus here to mitigate the distrust or poor communication.

  1. First, publicising evidence selectively among the stakeholders that can become a cause for concern during an ensuing disaster or crisis.
  2. Second, the harnessing the use of social media. This channel holds the propensity to provide additional information and community.

The important factor that interconnects these two factors is the indicator that indicates failings in communication and grows mistrust between those in control and those at risk.

Effective communication action requires that the corporate communication setup adopts a sustainable checklist to address latent risks with a strategy framework based on a typology of risks that essentially are based on preparedness or resilience.

  1. Failures of action – categorised into slips of action and lapses of procedure.
  2. Failures of planning, categorised as rule-based lapses and knowledge-based lapses.

Failures of action and planning are highly interconnected into an infinite loop, these failures form into latent risks. Normally, when the function of communication is provided with the right knowledge or information, skills, and experience to convey the risks the action of communication is successful and meets the need of having identified the latent risk and communicating to the stakeholders. This requires planning and a failure on this reflects directly on not following rules or non application of gained knowledge. Essentially the connectedness of latent risks to a crisis or disasters require planned paths of action to avoid the outcome of three conditions

Crisis or disaster due to

  1. Incorrect application of a good procedure or a process of governance
  2. Application of a unsuitable or outdated procedure
  3. Failure to apply a good procedure or a process of governance

A great communication plan to effectively focus on the future outcomes requires the application of knowledge, procedure and governance to form the way points to averting a crisis. A point to remember is that while a crisis is different for various stakeholders, a common feature that connects them are “Shaping Factors”. This essentially explores the buildup to any latent risk culminating into a causation factor for a full scale crisis or a disaster.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Amit Paul
With over two decades of diverse experience, Amit has worked closely with corporates, industry houses, academies and institutions helping them bridge the learning divide and implementing management solutions, focussing on the geographies of the Middle East and the ASEAN region.
Currently he is the Principal Consultant at NAC Singapore, and works on the confluence of technology and safe living focussing on building safe and smart cities.

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