Panic vs. preparation? Business professors analyze “crises” in a changing world

“The key to crisis management is anticipation, not clean up,” says Cipolla

Published Oct. 09, 2008

A crisis, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending.” Lynn business professors, John Cipolla and Mike Petroski, crafted a somewhat different definition that adds theoretical and operational uses to the term, specifically for businesses. They agree that crises involve change, but say that change is vague because we are living in a world that is changing fast, and promises to change faster.

“In the not too distant past, we’ve heard natural disasters, oil prices, the sub-prime mortgage situation, global warming, British political infighting, airline crashes, and the cost of health care in the United States referred to as ‘crises.’ ‘Crisis’ seems to be a word like ‘weather,’ it can imply almost anything,” note Cipolla and Petroski in their paper entitled, “The Role of Knowledge and Culture in Organizational Crises – Managing and Planning in ‘Interesting’ Times.”

“In crises we're all pushing familiar buttons and pulling well known knobs. And we're all getting a fireworks show that seems to have absolutely no relationship to our actions,” note Cipolla and Petroski. In other words, in a crisis, business people often don’t know how to handle the situation, so they continue doing what has always worked – and that is often a major mistake. “The key to crisis management is anticipation, not clean up,” says Cipolla.

Sources: Cipolla and Petroski teach a variety of courses in Lynn’s College of Business and Management on the topics of operational management, business strategy and crisis management. In August 2008, they traveled to Cambridge, England, to present their paper, “The Role of Knowledge and Culture in Organizational Crises – Managing and Planning in ‘Interesting’ Times,” at the 8th International Conference on Knowledge, Culture and Change in Organizations.

Cipolla, who completed his Ph.D. dissertation on organizational change, has first-hand experience consulting major organizations. “I helped companies that needed fundamental change,” said Cipolla, “and in many cases, the need for this change started in a crisis.”

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