‘Crisis’ can be defined as an unstable or crucial time in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.
Crises aren’t shy, be it a personnel issue or flaw in a product or service, the unexpected happens to us all. To combat this feeling of uncertainty, some organizations are instituting chaos theory into their workflow. By injecting chaos into a working machine, you can anticipate problems first by creating them and then challenging your company to fix them.
Netflix is doing just that, preparing for the worst by intentionally “breaking” its systems for the purpose of exposing weakness and giving its engineers practice and experience in fixing them.
Other tech companies are adopting the process into their engineering workflows, but it has applications outside of the tech world…it just requires a change in the thought process. Which we all know is a challenge for businesses that aren’t nimble.
Especially in PR, we always try to fix things (just ask Olivia Pope). Breaking something on purpose goes against our overwhelming desire to get things right. But the only way to practice crisis communications is to imagine worst-case scenarios (break the system) and practice – thus institutionalizing the chaos.
Want to try testing how your organization deals with chaos and crises? Start by working backwards – first, create the problem. One method: Do this as a fire drill and don’t warn anyone in advance so they take it seriously and put forth their best efforts as they would need to during an actual crisis. The ideal is to have the team test various solutions in a timely fashion until you determine the best fix for any given problems you can come up with. This will allow everyone to not only see flaws in in various plans and procedures, but also gain experience in handling an “unexpected” situation in a controlled environment. Don’t be afraid to reach outside the box and rethink convoluted procedures. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your team can accomplish something when under pressure to resolve a problem and handle it well in the moment.
PR professionals are planners; we’re creative; we’re ready for anything. Being proactive and forward thinking is part of the game – practicing before the big day comes and issues descend. If we make a point to prepare for the chaos, we’ll be better able to handle it when the time comes. Go forth and break things!
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