Crisis Management in a Complex World

Crisis Management in a Complex World

Crisis Management in a Complex World

Crisis Management in a Complex World


Managers, business owners, public relations practitioners, and others grapple daily with issues that have the potential to radically redefine the reputation of a person, company, or industry. They confront a fundamental question about contemporary crisis management: to what extent is it possible to control events and stakeholder responses to them, in order to contain escalating crises or safeguard an organization's reputation? In Crisis Management in a Complex World, authors Dawn Gilpin and Priscilla Murphy address this question head-on. Operating from a strong theoretical orientation, this book marks a sharp departure from other crisis management texts, which focus on nuts-and-bolts procedures and information distribution in an effort to simplify the turbulent reality of a crisis situation. Instead, this book pairs real-world examples from across the globe with theory-based analysis to show why simplification often fails to alleviate crises, and can even intensify them. Gilpin and Murphy propose a new, complexity-based approach to organizational learning that can allow organizations to adapt quickly to changing circumstances. This volume addresses both scholars and high-level practitioners of public relations, organizational communication, and strategic management. Strongly cross-disciplinary, the book draws on theories from communication, the physical sciences, and business. It invites controversy and ultimately aims to change the way people conceptualize and prepare for crises.


Consider the following crises:

On August 14, 2003, a snapped tree limb triggered the largest
electrical blackout that North America has ever experienced. About
60 million people in the northeastern United States and southern
Canada lost power, equivalent to the entire population of France
or Britain. Looting broke out in several major cities darkened by
the blackout, which included New York, Detroit, Cleveland, and
Toronto. Economic losses totaled about $12 billion. An official
with PJM Interconnection, a consortium that coordinates East
Coast power transmission, commented, “Nobody saw this com
ing None of us drew the proper conclusions about what was
going to happen.” (Behr & Barbaro, 2003)

In June 1999, five European countries banned Coca-Cola from store
shelves after nearly 200 people, many of them children, became
sick from drinking Coke. Two separate batches of ill-smelling but
non-toxic Coke in France and Belgium became linked in media
coverage. The story acquired further negative associations because
it followed on the heels of earlier media coverage of a Belgian food
scare involving sheep feed tainted with cancer-causing dioxin.
That association, in turn, encouraged connections with mad cow
disease, all worsened by the European public’s anxieties about
genetically altered foods—illogical, unscientific, and not amena
ble to public relations mitigation. Media coverage of the debacle
reversed prior positive depictions of Coke, which had until then
enjoyed a good reputation in Europe. (Murphy, 2000; Taylor, 2000)

In December 2006, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling began serv
ing a 24-year jail term for leading his firm into an $11 billion scan
dal. With more than 21,000 employees in 40 countries, Enron once
was one of the fastest growing energy companies in the world, the
seventh largest corporation in the United States. However, expo
sure of financial malfeasance under Skilling initiated a “corporate

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