Expect the UnexpectedWe thought everything was working fine. Great planning, a great network in place. Excellent computer systems. Visibility into our supply chain. Well-trained staff. We thought the “i”s were dotted and the “t”s were crossed. Then SOMETHING happened. Could be almost anything, but it was unexpected, had no easy fix, no recovery plan in place, you name it. So now two things have to happen: (1) damage control; and (2) fix the system.


I was reading a 1967 article by Peter Drucker: The Manager and the Moron. “The computer is a moron. And the stupider the tool, the brighter the master must be”, says Peter Drucker. He explains how “the dumbest tool we have ever had” will compel managers to think through their actions. So now we know what we knew already, the computer, on it's own, will not handle damage control or fixing the system. We will need the wise heads to lead it.It leads into the skills needed in a crisis:

“One of the few things we do know is that for any knowledge worker, even for the file clerk, there are two laws. The first one is that knowledge evaporates unless it’s used and augmented. Skill goes to sleep, it becomes rusty, but it can be restored and refurbished very quickly. That’s not true of knowledge. The second law is that the only motivation for knowledge is achievement.”

Our current generation of managers (age 35 and under) have the knowledge but not necessarily the experience. Companies who used to replace a 65-year-old manager with a 59-year-old manager, now they look for a talented 35-year-old.

It's sort of like the story of the two hospital interns with a patient bleeding badly. One says to the other: “Do you think we should call the chief resident?” The other responds: “What does he know about how to get out of trouble, he never gets in it.”

Now let's get organized to fix whatever mistake was made. Some ideas of what the trouble could be are:

  • Accidents – fire, explosions, structural failures, hazardous spills;
  • Labor availability – shortage of qualified staff, high-cost labor, labor unrest, strikes, slowdowns;
  • Production problems – overly lean inventory, process issues (used horsemeat Instead of cow meat), reliability, lead-time variability, inflexible production capacity, long set-up time;
  • Natural disasters – epidemics, earthquakes, extreme weather;
  • A new concern, is supplier insolvency amid an economic downturn. While economic crises don’t come up as frequently as hurricanes, they can deliver an even bigger threat. 

Now let's get down to brass tacks and form a team, outfit them with the obligatory “war room” and get started. We have already determined that our computer will need help, so grab the CIO for his/her “best heads”. Now, look through the rest of the staff for team members for those with “skill”: meaning experience with similar “mistakes”.

Reach out to the suppliers, as well as those near the mistake. Look for suppliers who didn't have the same troubles because they are a “quality” company.

Then take a look at your services vendors. I keep thinking how DHL pulled a lot of folks out of a serious problem when a volcano in Iceland closed down much of Europe's airspace. In other words, people with a “think out of the box” mentality.

Does the team still seems lost? There are always consultants to enlist.

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