The piercing din of current dialogue about businesses "in crisis" diminishes the meaning of the phrase. In the wake of the chatter, the essence of effective crisis management has not been meaningfully identified. Like many successful approaches to seemingly elusive challenges, it's a simple proposition: "experiential intuition."
Malcolm Gladwell might call experiential intuition a "blink" moment, one that triggers rapid recognition of what is important even with limited information. The critical nuance is that the total of experience plus intuition is greater than either alone. In its basic form, experiential intuition supposes that the frequency and variability of crisis management engagements creates a distinct cognitive ability to manage crisis more effectively and comprehensively.
Experiential intuition is a by-product not just of volume, but of the variability of crises managed, muscle memory if you will. Just like a surgeon who has performed hundreds of surgeries is better equipped to navigate unprecedented complications, so too is the crisis manager who has handled multiple permutations of crisis. Intuition is the ability yielded by experience to instinctively discern the dynamic underpinnings of the unique situation at hand. The astute crisis manager employs the sum of experience and the companion intuitive reflex to identify requisite tools and inform approach.
Litigators, for example, routinely acknowledge that their strategic decisions and the way in which they prosecute are guided more by "experiential intuition" than by case law, statute, or administrative codes. Thus, the best litigators have handled cases as diverse as securities fraud to failed mergers. Similarly, governance, compliance, and risk managers have embraced the "Monte Carlo" method because it incorporates intui-tion as an effective tool for the many uncertainties in modeling risk.
Too often, crisis and issues management is handled in formulaic ways by insiders fluent with the narrow idiosyncrasies of a particular industry. The flaw of this approach is that it fails to recognize that crisis is never linear. It often unfolds in ways that demand a broader spectrum of experience and an ability - and keenness - to intuit and cater to the forces at play in the given situation.
Experiential intuition is the pedigree required for the crisis manager who rises above the risk.
Harlan Loeb is Edelman's US director of crisis and issues management and a Northwestern University Law School faculty member.