Monday, 8 April 2013

Challenge, Crisis and Opportunity


Finding opportunity in a challenge is often easier said than done. Challenges left unattended have a way of growing into crises, real or imagined. Last week our family experienced a small scale domestic crisis first hand. Hours before I was due to leave on a trip, my son discovered a puddle in the middle of his basement bedroom. Closer examination revealed the challenge was a  bathroom pipe that had been leaking  through the wall and under his carpet for some time. In the past this situation might have set our whole family into a tailspin, but not this time. Once we'd shut off the water,  removed the sopping carpet and called the plumber the worst was over. While I was away, other family members collaborated on solutions. By the time I returned, plumbing repairs were complete and a re-modelling plan had begun to take shape. My son and I now have an opportunity to build something better together together.

Finding opportunity in crisis has a long history as a business strategy.  Forbes Magazine succinctly summarizes the traditional view that crisis can be leveraged to get more from people within an organization. The idea that a crisis can help managers find inner strengths and new levels of productivity in their employees has some validity, but seems cold and and a bit manipulative.  Bruce Evan Goldstein's book Collaborative Resilience takes a different tack, presenting a series of essays that describe how groups and organizations have pulled together to cope and come back stronger from real life altering crises.

The wave of change coming through public education may still be more of a challenge than a crisis, but just like our plumbing issue, it does have potential for setting people and districts into a tizzy. Calm and resilient response, that generates clear and collaborative solutions that value all stakeholders is the best way forward. Keeping education engaging, effective and  relevant in the face of rapid change and ever tightening resources isn't easy. Simply exploiting a challenge by driving people to work harder only burns them out or feeds a sense of crisis and impending doom. Recognizing a need for change and redesigning systems, or effecting solutions that leave things better than we found them, takes the sting out of challenges and turn them into a real opportunities.

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