Why you might need a ‘Business Crisis Inducer’

Is your organization running too smoothly?  Is everything being handled with a minimum of fuss?  Perhaps you need a ‘Business Crisis Inducer’ is a tool that causes randomized crisis events to challenge your organization.  Sound crazy?  It is not as crazy as you might first think.


Previously I have posted how organizations learn and exhibit antifragile characteristics.  Such complex adaptive systems are stable — not because they are designed to fit perfectly together — but instead because of homeostasis.

One thing about antifragile systems is that they need to be exercised.  Lack of stress can harm actually harm the system.

  • Muscles: exercise increases the size and function of a muscle, while sitting still watching TV will cause them to atrophy.
  • Football team:  to prepare for a big game coming a month away, the worst thing would be to make every team member sit and rest.  Instead, the team should play as many scrimmage games as possible.  A coach will stress the team by exposing them to tough situations they might encounter.  These scrimmage game help the team to retain skills and learn to handle potential situations.
  • Student: to prepare for a big exam, the best thing to do is to challenge yourself to work through similar tests in order to learn to handle the kinds of questions you might encounter.   It is well known that just reading the answers to sample questions is not nearly as effective as challenging yourself to produce the answer.

The same is true with business organizations.  The more the organization is challenged, the better it gets at handling the challenge.  Your organization needs exercise.

The Irony of the BPM System

The goal of a BPM system is to automate and eliminate variation in the processes that people perform.  Before the BPM system, the workers needed to think about each case to handle it, to apply the rules, and work to keep things consistent.  After deploying a BPM system, workers don’t need to think much about the rules, and instead simply complete activities as they arrive.  Organizations like being able to use lower skilled (and lower cost) workers.

The unexpected consequence is that the organization is less prepared to take care of the situations that fall outside of the expected cases.  These exceptional cases don’t happen very often, but when they do, the organization is less prepared to handle them.

The Crisis Inducer

hitchhikersLintilla, a character from Douglas Adam’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, had a Crisis Inducer.  It is described as “a watch-like device that can create an artificial crisis situation of selectable severity, in order to sharpen the wits of the user.”  Turning it on might present the wearer (magically) with a death defying situation that they then need to escape.  Without this exercise, Lintilla felt she would get soft and lazy.

Why not then build this idea directly into the BPM system? Instead of protecting the users from variability, perhaps the ‘Business Crisis Inducer’ (BCI) would actually present, at some rate, hypothetical unusual practice cases to be handled.  These would not be real crises, but instead cases to be used as drills to refresh the skills for handling unusual cases.  The employee would know that it is just a drill, but they are expected to handle it the same way they would if it was a real case.

Isn’t this is a waste to use employee time on drills?  A fire drill certainly takes up employee time, but the benefit is that if there is a fire, they are quite a bit more likely to do the right thing.  Keeping skills sharp for an emergency is not a waste.  The Business Crisis Generator will help make sure that the organization can handle unusual cases, if they ever arise.

Such drills can be done manually, of course, but why not automate it by building this feature directly into the BPM system?  Could a general feature of the system be to automatically submit a range of unusual cases at a low, but steady rate?

Doing this would be integrating the (1) system for performing work together with a (2) system for training and maintaining training.  Along with regular work, would be the exercise that is needed to keep the organization healthy.

Crazy?  Maybe not.

2 thoughts on “Why you might need a ‘Business Crisis Inducer’

  1. Hi Keith, a crisis inducer is a great idea for people training. Too bad it won’t work for a business that uses BPM, because the workers would expect that the crisis would be handled by the prescriptive flow.

    While it would however work fantastically with ACM while it is not necessary, because the real world present processes differently every day and people get trained in reacting to different scenarious without having to create them artificially.

    The reason that one does fire alarm training is not to train people to deal with the unexpected but make sure that they can be hearded out of the building like sheep, because it is an utterly unnatural situation and environment. Fire safety procedures are sometimes ridiculous to boot and only so because they have to deal with all kinds of and WAY too many people. Like in traffic, rules have to be made for the worst drivers and not the best.

    Fire drills are used like in the military to fix something in the mind by repetitive instruction. Which clearly means they can only be used to deal with expected situations, but yes, maybe at unexpected times in various different scenarios. You use drill especially when you feel that people do not have the ability to make good judgement themselves. So they are useful, but I would not link them to the concept of a crisis inducer. I drill things when I do not want to or do not have time to think.

    • My example would be a bank receiving an account application from a known terrorist. There are probably specific things to be done (both legally and customarily) in this situation. To assure that an employee knows what to do, this would be a kind of test. We can not assume that this sort of thing happens often enough in any ACM system. So forced practice might keep the skills sharper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s