“’A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,’ Vinod Khosla laments to Larry Page (co-founder of Google). The two Silicon Valley luminaries are chatting one evening at the Googleplex, the quirky Californian headquarters of Google. The crisis which Mr. Khosla is concerned about is caused by carmakers’ addiction to oil and the consequent warming of the planet. ‘The energy and car industries have not been innovative in many years because they have faced no real crisis, no impetus for change,’ he insists.” (The Economist; October 11, 2007.)

Crises can be wonderful because they can force needed change. Human beings, wonderful creatures though they are, can be a tad slow to abandon old, comfortable, familiar ways and learn new, different ways. This is particularly true when the benefit of the change, no matter how necessary, is not immediately apparent.

A wise leader recognizes the hidden benefit of a crisis and uses it to motivate others to create innovative and long-lasting solutions, resisting the temptation to accept patchwork, “finger in the dike” responses that do not respond to the true underlying issues.

It has been said that one of the key strategic tasks of a leader is to look ahead and make an organization feel “minor pain” in time to avoid “major pain,” i.e. acknowledge and implement needed change before the marketplace administers the same lesson in a more painful and expensive way.

More succinctly: “Change before a crisis forces you to change.” If you can, you will be able to change at your chosen pace, in a manner generally more agreeable than when in crisis mode.

And if you miss a needed change and find yourself in a crisis anyway, use it wisely. Get all the benefit out of it you can!

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive. Originally posted October 17, 2007.