Business Continuity – A Triumph of Hope Over Experience

Jun 23, 2017

This week’s bulletin has been written by guest author, and BC Training tutor James Royds.

How often do you hear the expression “a triumph of hope over experience”? Daily, weekly, monthly? If you stop and think about it, you will probably hear it said at least once a week. By someone, somewhere. But what does it mean and why do I raise it in a bulletin about Business Continuity?

Well, its derivation is attributed to Samuel Johnson circa 1791. His expression has done the rounds a bit: a feature of polite discourse for well over two hundred years. It is believed to have been coined by Johnson when he heard about a man who had remarried soon after the death of a wife, to whom he had been unhappily married. I have no reason to doubt its authenticity, or its provenance, and it’s not my purpose here to question how he came by this observation on “the holy state of matrimony”. But I can’t help thinking – and increasingly so – that sometimes Business Continuity is a triumph of hope over experience!

Hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen; a feeling of trust, or the want of something to be the case (with either positive or negative outcomes), and for certainty looks to an unknowable future for its fulfilment. I think that’s quite an ask!

Experience on the other hand, is something gained from, among many things, historical contact with and observation of facts or events, and looks backwards to reflect on what was, or could have been, and is largely the result of what has been, or has happened. You could say that experience leading to expertise is knowledge or mastery of events gained through involvement in, or exposure to them. Philosophical terms such as “empirical knowledge” or “a posteriori knowledge” (as opposed to a priori knowledge) are used to refer to knowledge based on experience of, or familiarity with, a particular skill or field of expertise acquired over months or years of actual practice and which leads, hopefully, to superior understanding or “mastery”. Is there a ring of truth here and recognition of a growing shortcoming for the Continuity Community? How do we assert our knowledge and experience of events to which we have had no exposure?

While we may hope to be good at Business Continuity and our organisations would know exactly what to do across a range of dystopian circumstances and situations by simply “following the plan”; the gnawing truth is that too much of our practical and practitioner expertise is based on unfulfilled hopes and aspirations. Far too little of it is ever based on actual experience, precisely because our exposure is infrequent and sometimes never at all. There is an assumption that we know best, because we have attended a course, or wear the titular trappings of role distinction with pride; whereas our experience as practitioners is too often based not on our experience or knowledge of events, but more likely because we have read or heard the accounts of what has happened to others less fortunate elsewhere. If you want some raw insights into what I am talking about, see the movie “Deepwater Horizon” and ask yourself how would my organisation cope in this situation?

How often do you or your organisation experience significant or catastrophic disruption in your working lives: never, once, twice, or more often? Statistically, I am willing to wager that it is seldom – if ever. How do we therefore gain mastery of a subject based on events which we have seldom or never been exposed to? The best plan and planning is rooted, so people say, in following due process and direct experience – who could argue with that – and yet we are being warned “to beware of experts”. The backlash against people who proclaim expertise in knowing how to deal with events in an unknowable future has begun. BCM practitioners would do well to take careful note and adjust your rhetoric accordingly!

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