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A Crisis Never Appears Out Of Nowhere

A crisis may come unexpected, they often do, but this simply means that the warning signs were not detected in time, a situation or issue was left unresolved, and it escalated as a result. It does not mean that the signs were not there.

Crises sit along a scale of harmful events. They are the last form before catastrophe, at which point the situation has been lost, the damage is irreversible. Crises happen because harmful events have not been successfully contained at a lower end of the scale. This is important to understand, crises are the result of management failures. This also means that someone is to blame, which is one of the complications posed by a crisis. There is no escaping this, it is an essential part of what defines a crisis - control mechanisms have failed, mistakes have been made, stakeholder expectations have not been met.

For executives this is important. Senior managers need to have a good grasp of where in their organisational landscape a crisis can come from, and exactly what the current position is - are controls working as intended, are ongoing issues being contained within acceptable limits, or is there something brewing that's going to bite us ?

For every organisation, this landscape looks different, and it evolves day by day in real time. In future posts we will give examples of the various ways crises can arise out of combinations of harmful events lower down the scale. The key point is this - in every single case at least one and usually several such events were in play before they escalated into a crisis, sometimes for months and even years.

The good news is that in such cases the opportunity existed to remedy the situation before it caused serious problems for the organisation. This is the purpose behind our approach, to help develop tools and a methodology that can prevent crises from emerging in the first place, by knowing what to look for.

This article is part of Avoiding Catastrophe's training program in crisis management. If you would like to discuss the issues raised here in more depth, or would like a full size version of the Scale of Harmful Events, contact us at

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