What Emergency?

This week's New Yorker Financial Page, the weekly column by The Wisdom of Crowds author James Surowiecki, certainly caught my attention. Since reporting and writing this story several months ago about what we can learn from high-profile organizational disasters (9/11, the Columbia shuttle accident, and the Jayson Blair fraud at the New York Ttimes), I've been intrigued by how large-scale failures usually occur from the smallest of actions. Whether it's merely labeling something incorrectly (as was the case in the way the debris strike of the Columbia shuttle was labeled) or overlooking the warnings of a colleague (as happened in the management of Jayson Blair's performance), everyday actions can have tremendous consequences.

And now, Surowiecki's column introduces further proof that failures are rarely true surprises. A recent study by the Institute for Crisis Management found that only one-fourth of business crises are truly results of a curveball; most simmer rather than spike. While I'm all for optimism to a point, I too believe the culprit is that too many overconfident execs are delusional optimists, blindly believing the biggest problem can't happen and overlooking the small stuff on route to that end. As Surowiecki says, "it's hard to prepare for the worst when you think you're the best."

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  • roger fulton

    OR, here's another view: we all live in rabbit holes: no one wants to buck the emperor and his brand new robes because we all have kids in school bills to pay and wives to feed.
    Go ahead, buck the system, know how long it takes to get through the unemployment line and talk to Ms wonderful about your next $340 check?
    How many of you out there choose to look the other way when Tarzan in the corner office beats his (her) chest and "fixes" the balance sheet, blows smokes up the collective skirts of the Bored of Directors (and YOU know it) and knows full well when (s)he gets caught (s)he will probably be 1) will blame it on someone else or
    2) be on the stage outta town an hour before the possee hits?
    And for me, I get to look innocent. "Wha, me? I dunno what you're talkin' about? I'm only the second flunkie from the left, Mr. Gotrocks. I'm NOT IN CHARGE HERE."

  • Dan Seidman

    But wait, theres more! What of the totally unexpected? Heres a story from my archive of 500+ sales blunders at www.SalesAutopsy.com on just such an incident

    Jacks sale is lost in the Twilight Zone

    I was sitting in the living room of the local fire chief. He was a great prospect for several of my financial services packages. A wife and two teenagers wandered in and out of the house, offering proof that I was with a highly qualified prospect.

    The chief was sharp, asking great questions. He had a clear understanding of both the value and his need for my companys help. The doorbell rang.

    The wife answered and let a police officer into the living room.

    "Hey chief!" He called. "Uh, do you know who belongs to the car out front? I just hit it, a little."

    I stood up, alarmed. It wasnt the car, but the distraction. I was 90% down the path to a sale.

    I said, "Can I call you when I leave here? Dont worry about it."

    He handed me a card and left. Oddly, the wife and husband stared at each other a few moments before she left the room.

    I chuckled, mumbled some feeble comment that the best time to hit cars are when there are no people in them and began re-selling my prospect.

    "Hey, Jack, listen." The fire chief held up his hand, halting my speech.

    "Were not going to be able to do this." The wife came back and sat beside him.

    He continued, "See, this accident or incident is a bad omen. Its telling us that we shouldnt do business with you."

    Well, how do you respond to that? In 20 plus years of selling, Id heard every objection imaginable. Now this was new.

    "Really, its just a minor accident. It happens all the time. And you agreed that what were discussing is something important to your familys financial future." I was backpedaling, looking for a way to revive the dying sale.

    "No, Jack." He reached for his wifes hand in support. "We trust our instincts and this occurrence is not a good sign. Thank you for your time."

    I wandered numbly out of their home, wondering what I could have done differently: Probably nothing.

    POSTMORTEM: What can Jack (and you) learn from a bizarre one in a billion incident? Its what happens once you leave that matters most. Your ability to recover from rejection or a lost sale is a sign of your selling health. The faster you recover, the healthier you are. Heres a snapshot of a good attitude toward all prospects responses: Yes celebrate! No next! Get right on to your next shot at success and youll be a more mentally-fit sales professional.

  • Dan Seidman

    In sales, the best, the true pros, know every possible response they could encounter.

    Any entrepreneur or business pro should never be surprised when something "unexpected" happens. It might come from the sales guy nervously hired (but you loved his resume numbers) or the good customer who suddenly doesn't call back (we've been, like, best friends forever) or the vendor who's quality and pricing are heading in opposite directions (we've been with them for years!).

    By anticipating and knowing what might happen in any scenario, and creating a great response to each, we can "predict the future."

    Dan Seidman, www.SalesAutopsy.com

  • dave

    If you happen to work for the delusionally optimistic executive and you don't embrace the same positive blindness...you are labeled as negative, not a team player...etc. Just asking questions about details that may not add up puts you on the downslope.

    Both company and capable employees are put at risk.