Wednesday, 1 August 2018

The “Perfect Storm”

In 2000, Warner Bros. released “The Perfect Storm” – a film about how in October 1991 a “confluence of weather conditions” created a “killer storm” in the North Atlantic.  Apart from the adventure of the brave souls on board a small fishing vessel, the film narrates the conditions that all came together at the same time.

I read an article today that referred to an industry sector in a particular country suffering from low sales in June due to a “Perfect Storm” of certain events all happening at more or less the same time to create a drop in activity.  Normally, businesses plan for disasters based on one unfortunate event happening, but it’s not common practice to think about what might happen if several events happened at the same time.  A typical example might be a hospital drama where the power gets cut off due to a city-wide outage and the hospital is inundated with victims of accidents caused by the same power outage affecting traffic lights, etc.  To complicate matters, hospital staff have been struck by a virus in the hospital and are unable to work…

A business is judged not by how it handles “business as usual”, but by how it handles problems. We have to produce “Business Continuity Plans” based on one catastrophic event, but we don't do it for several. To illustrate, in one area I worked, we had a plan for a hurricane striking the area and how we would manage to clear transactions.  We rehearsed it every year and were confident that we could recover to a level where things were running as smoothly as possible.

One of the conditions for things working was that two staff had to fly out to mainland USA to work from an office there.  We actually rehearsed getting them there and logging onto our systems.

Looking back, what we didn't account for was eventualities like those staff being unable to work (e.g. because of injuries caused by the hurricane, or not being able to fly out due to all aircraft being grounded at the airport).  We didn't factor in the effect of a regional pandemic incapacitating half our staff at the same time.  

The question is, how “bad” do things have to get before our business or organisation has to acknowledge that it can't operate?  Here’s a framework: ask yourself:
  • What could go wrong?
  • What could cause it to go wrong?
  • What could we do to eliminate or reduce the cause?
  • What could we do after to recover?

 It’s not pleasant to think of disasters and what might go wrong, but doing so shows us where we could tighten up and what we could do to mitigate or even prevent many of the effects of “The Perfect Storm”. 


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to provide solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My websiteprovides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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