Opportunity In The Face Of Danger Developing Business Resilience

By Gaia Grant


Our world has changed dramatically, and we’re just going to have to come to terms with it. We have all known that life would never be quite the same after the September 11 tragedy, but this fact has been highlighted for me after some recent incidents.

The horrific bomb attack in October 2002 only kilometres from our Bali office and house obviously literally brought the message home. For several months now security personnel have had a high profile on the island. My children’s school has been crawling with police and army men with machine guns, and they must now enter the premises through strict security check points. Twice last week I had to pick up the children early from school in an emergency evacuation because of bomb threats after the start of the Iraq war.  This week the school is closed again due to SARS risks. I think it’s particularly significant that even Bali – the idyllic paradise island – has been affected by the current world crises.

All of these events have had an impact on our personal lives and our business, and we are finding more than ever that individuals and organisations are looking for ideas on how to cope with what has become a worldwide crisis. We have been interviewed for an HR magazine in Australia about the ways our company has responded to and survived these difficult times. Several of our clients are now asking Tirian to prepare sessions for them on business resilience and personal coping strategies. Key US management magazines are featuring articles with interviews from SAS teams on how to survive – and military jargon has become the corporate metaphor of the season. It is clear that a new trend has emerged.

Conflict and hardship have always been around, but the more privileged pockets of the world have managed to remain relatively immune to the effects of these for much of the last century. Some people will deny the fact that all of us are now under threat in some way and will want to carry on as if everything is normal – others will feel paralysed by fear and get depressed. But it should be possible to find a perspective that gives the hope to continue with a quality life, as individuals and organizations.


Only yesterday management experts were expounding the virtues of a self-actualised workforce, wondering if it was possible to reach an 8th level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The self-help gurus, too, have been offering us economic success and spiritual salvation in one easy anointing.

But the reality is that in many ways our lives have become a random and unpredictable game of snakes and ladders, and with a bad throw of the dice we have found ourselves at the bottom of the playing board. Once again we are being forced to address basic survival needs.

In his book ‘Good to Great’ Jim Collins reveals how companies that want to really excel must face the brutal facts and deal with them head on.  The response we have to difficult circumstances will determine our success in dealing with them. While some will dive (become permanently dispirited), others will survive (recover and get back on track). But the really exceptional individuals and organizations will go on to thrive – they will use the experience as a defining event to make them even stronger.

Many people get stuck in survival mode because they feel threatened by adverse circumstances or become too busy trying to deal with the urgent things that they lose sight of what is really important. But those who are able to thrive under these circumstances go beyond survival to really living.


Being forced to reprioritise and re-establish your goals and direction can be a positive outcome of a potentially difficult situation. It’s often only when we get the ‘opportunity’ –  due to the apparent dangers – that we reassess the direction we are heading in. We can then check we are climbing the right ladders. In mountain climbing, to take another analogy, you often need to descend into valleys before reaching the highest peaks. And sometimes you need the perspective of looking up at the mountains from the valley to know you are going the right way.

You have heard the saying look before you leap – well I would suggest that you look before you climb. What is the opportunity in this? If we have been forced back into survival mode then we should be able to clearly see all the ladders – or all the peaks. We can now see, for example, that the dizzying heights top performing organizations such as Enron and Andersen Consulting had reached may have been inappropriate.

As the Economist has said, “When undue attention is focused on a single figure (bottom line profit), undue effort is devoted to manipulating it.” There is nothing more pathetic than working hard to climb to the top, only to discover a deceptive snake there or a false peak.


Have we come the full circle, where we must once more assess our most basic needs? Being forced to think about our basic needs for security and wellbeing is not a bad thing if it helps us refocus on better goals. The people who are able to thrive no matter what are able to face up to their circumstances with a positive optimism and sincere integrity. These people have ensured that they have aimed for and climbed the right mountain. If we, as a society have been forced to descend to the valleys or have found ourselves at the bottom of the board then let’s use this opportunity to aim for the real top.

If we start to embrace the important core values and infuse our organisations with them, we will find that we can cope with most of what comes our way, and create a better future in the process!

Happy climbing…

©2003 Gaia Grant


T-Thoughts articles may be reproduced with written permission and must also be acknowledged with a web link back to the Tirian pages.


Leave a Reply