There are real crises and manufactured crises. Knowing the difference is important. (More)

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Businesses often reward people who ‘manage crises’ well. A good crisis can mobilize a team and get everyone’s adrenaline pumping. A good crisis also gets the problem solvers lots of kudos. If it is a real crisis, all of this is totally appropriate.

For example, FEMA is an agency which exists to deal with real emergencies. They have an invaluable skill set and deserve every bit of praise they get. Some problems need addressing by experts. Some problems are too big for individuals to solve on their own, and some problems erupt and develop too rapidly for anything other than crisis management.

But too often the crisis cycle sets up a different kind of dynamic. In business at least, people notice who gets noticed and for what. If people get rewarded for ‘putting out fires’ pretty soon a group of arsonists emerge in search of attention. In systems speak a negative reinforcing loop is established. A legitimate initial crisis gets replicated and replicated and soon the organization is all fire fighters all the time and the real underlying cause of the first fire remains unaddressed. People are too busy fighting fires to do anything else and nothing changes. I have worked in such places and it is exhausting and frustrating.

Political junkies may notice a tendency in the GOP to manufacture crises. We have had the fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling, and on and on. They are said to be kicking the can down the road. What they are is attention seeking arsonists. They invent crises to stoke their base and garner media attention for their agenda. To paraphrase President Obama, lurching from crisis to crisis is no way to run a country. To add a corollary, covering fires and publicizing arsonists is no way to run the media. I have the same reaction to the GOP Crisis Brigade as I had to some corporations … exhaustion and frustration.

It is time for Congress to actually govern. They might just find themselves rising above head lice and cockroaches.