You have probably heard the phrase “Never waste a good crisis.” The quote is attributed to Winston Churchill, who, in the mid-1940s, actually said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

The goal of leveraging a crisis is rapid change—more rapidly than could be achieved in non-crisis situations. It’s a desire to drive accelerated change when the economic and social contexts are already being disrupted. The view is that one can get additional and even unrelated things done under the guise of helping manage your way out of a crisis. Never mind whether this is ethically or morally acceptable. It could be one of those “look over here” distractions used by management, so staff aren’t paying full attention to what the real emergency is.

A relevant question to ask is whether it is better to promote change by proactively taking advantage of opportunities. These are two quite different approaches: one based on taking advantage of a currently unfavorable crisis, and the other based on exploring new opportunities as they present themselves and doing so on an ongoing basis. They come from very different styles of managing organizations and people.

Taking advantage of crises is an approach that is, in essence, passive-aggressive. If you didn’t create the crisis, in this scenario, some will say that you should start one to leverage it to your advantage. Is that ethically and morally acceptable? Maybe it works for those who believe the end justifies the means.

Here’s an example of taking advantage of a crisis. Let’s say you unexpectedly lose your largest customer. You could try to understand what happened, or you could react by terminating the assigned salesperson and restructuring the entire sales team. That’s taking a crisis and using it as a reason for broader action. Was there a real basis for this? It’s unlikely that the salesperson working the account, and certainly not the entire sales team, was solely responsible for this customer loss. If there was a problem with your sales approach, you could have been proactive and addressed it before the customer departed.

Do you need crises to motivate your organization for change? No, you really don’t. Best performing organizations create their own opportunities. They take the time to develop growth roadmaps to understand where their future growth opportunities are best targeted, and they effectively implement these roadmaps to make sure that they have the best models to deliver the best financial results. Best performing organizations embed growth planning into their management disciplines. Discussions around change and growth happen frequently and regularly—and are not driven by crises.

Is this a better approach? I would argue that it is. There’s an axiom in planning which says, “the time to grow is when you can, not when you have to.” Crises represent times when you might have to take unnecessary and negative actions. The probability of success is lower when you are running out of time and capital. Risks also increase when you act quickly, without the time for considered decisions. A crisis may seem like an opportunity to get more done, but are you willing to risk making a poor decision that could impact your organization’s future?

Biblically, anyone reading the Word will recognize that crises occur with regularity as we are imperfect people making imperfect decisions and taking inappropriate action. Crises occur—whether we experience them or create them–we all recognize that. The Bible does have much to offer about opportunities, though, including this verse from Colossians 4:4: “Make the most of every opportunity.”

Reference Reading

Colossians 4:5

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.