By Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez
Tylenol, New Coke, Jack-in-the-Box, Bag Leaf Spinach, Katrina and
the World Trade Center have in common? They were all disasters.
More specifically, they were all business disasters, and the
outcomes of each of these disasters were completely dependent on
managing needs and resources.
what does triage have to do with business? If a business is doing
well, absolutely nothing. However, in a global economy where labor
is cheaper for “the big boys” overseas and markets are flooded with
less expensive goods, where disgruntled employees or other
malcontents take out their frustration on a business directly or its
customers there are few businesses that do not regularly suffer a
disaster. The problem is, they don’t know how to recognize one when
first lesson from the disaster field office are the definitions: a
disaster is when your needs exceed your resources. It’s a simple
Disaster = Needs > Resources
catastrophe is when your needs exceed all ability to respond.
Again, it’s a simple mathematical equation:
Catastrophe = Needs > Ability to Respond
Resiliency is defined in many ways. One definition is even of a book
on the subject, Mastery Against Adversity (Disaster Life
Support Publishing, 2007). But the simplest definition is that
resiliency is the opposite of disaster. It is when your resources
exceed your needs, or mathematically:
Resilience = Resources > Needs
second lesson from the disaster field office is every business must
have resilience to survive its disaster.
third lesson from the disaster field office is that there are
acceptable losses. Several years ago when New York City suffered
its most recent blackout Arnie, who owned a small convenience store
and ice creamery faced a business triage decision. With the power
out he had ten flavors of ice cream in the cabinet that would soon
melt. At 5 gallons per flavor there was slightly less than
50 gallons of ice cream up front. This was a small loss, but it
would be compounded by the fact that he had over 100 gallons of ice
cream in the back.
knew that he had a disaster on his hands. His needs (refrigerator)
exceeded his resources (electricity). Arnie needed to make a simple
triage decision. He had to decide where he could focus his efforts
and his remaining resources so that his business would in fact
reopen when the power came back on. He also needed to plan for as
short a recover as possible.
sweltering heat Arnie struck upon an idea, give it away. After all,
what would he be losing? The product would be ruined before
refrigeration could be returned. So he simply gave away the ice
cream. A small handmade sign in the window soon drew people in off
the street. “Free Ice Cream.”
time he had a line. He was giving away the ice cream, but what to
hold it in? Ice cream cones! The cones were actually cheaper than
Styrofoam cups, and Styrofoam have an unlimited shelf life. The
small loss in the cost of ice cream cones was less than the larger
loss than the cost of Styrofoam cups.
amazement people began to buy other items in the store, items that
in all likelihood he would not have been able to sell during the
blackout. Before he had given away all the ice cream, Arnie found
that his store shelves were bare and his cigar box overflowing. His
acceptable loss, the ice cream, had gained him an unexpected profit.
that’s not the end of Arnie’s story. The power came back on he also
saw a tremendous increase in business. People didn’t just come
because he had given away ice cream. They came because they felt
that Arnie cared about them. He had taken a tough decision and
turned it into a benefit for those around him.
has come to be sorely misunderstood. Triage is not simply sorting
the most important project or business goal, or even critically ill
patient to the front of the line. Triage is determining what
resources are available and how those resources can serve the
largest number of goals or the largest number of people at any given
moment in time. Triage is a continuous process, and it is a
repeating process. In business that means constantly reassessing
the resources available at hand both as they are expended and as
they are re‑supplied. Business triage involves reassessing the
needs and goals of the company on a minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour
business world triage missteps, failure to define an acceptable loss
has resulted in product failures and brand damage (Coca-Cola with
New Coke and Jack-in-the-Box with tainted hamburgers). The news
examples disaster was taken to catastrophe because needs were not
prioritized and goals not adjusted to the realities of available
lesson of business triage is that when a business faces a disaster
it must accept that not all of its goals can be met until more
resources are brought to bear. If those resources are not available
then acceptable losses must be identified and sustained. This must
be done dispassionately and with the same logical approach as
business uses when choosing a vendor or a new project in which to
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