“Never Waste a Good Crisis”

The statement that we must “never waste a good crisis” is generally attributed to Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s Chief of Staff, in response to the Wall Street meltdown. Many have made the same point and, in fact, the words can be traced back at least to Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Machiavelli, and Emanuel after him, understood that crises shake people out of their complacency, create opportunities to challenge conventional wisdom and give leaders some room to take on vested interests and achieve transformative change.

Inevitably, those who would find such opportunities for change most threatening, those with vested interests in the current arrangements, will downplay the crises – “what crisis?’ – or portray them as inevitable and beyond our capacity to manage or prevent (see previous post).

Why do I raise these issues today? Read this in which the CEO of BP describes the “small oil spill” in the large ocean. What crisis?

Comments
8 Responses to ““Never Waste a Good Crisis””
  1. Stan says:

    I appreciate your tracing this back beyond recent attributions. Do have a particular Machiveli text/section of source I could point people to to counter claims that it was Emmanual or Churchhill who put the thought “out there”?

    A critical thinker, and well-read, I find it hard to fathom that such an obvious observation wasn’t expressed earlier than the 20th century (and found it’s way to a citable source).

    BTW Kudods to you! I greatly appreciate your wording “can be traced back at least to Niccolo Machiavelli…”

    • himelfarb says:

      Hi Stan, Honestly I first found the quote in several secondary sources which attributed it to Machiavelli but without specific page references. I always assumed but never checked that it came from the Prince where as I recall he talks of the use of cunning in times of crisis to gain power (having observed Cesare Borgia doing precisely that.)

      • Stan says:

        Thanks much for your quick response! Very likely Churchhill read Machiavelli as if I recall correctly he had a classics (incl The Prince) education. I’ll poke around and if I find anything specific re citations I’ll send to you. Again thanks, Stan

      • himelfarb says:

        Thank you Stan.

      • Stan says:

        I downloaded (an English translation) of ‘The Prince’ as a free PDF at Planet eBook.com, and did several word searches of the PDF.

        Perhaps most useful to the task at hand is a word search for “opportunity” which leads to pages 145 and 149 of Chapter XXVI “An Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarians”. These pages, and Chapter XXVI generally, make the case for “never waste a good crisis” albeit not in these exact words (in translation).

        I suspect anyone (with critical thinking skills and educated in the Classics) such as Churchill, his predecessors, contemporaries, successors would get the point of Chapter XXVI. At one point Machivelli also raises the point in reference Persian and Hebrew history.

        No luck so far on a citable attribution of who first said EXACTLY “Never waste a good crisIs.” But certainly the thought was expressed by Machavelli, and as so often the case, earlier written docs may exist or emerge (from other cultures perhaps) that Machiavelli drew upon. I don’t know anything of his educational background, foreign language skills, etc.

        Stan

      • himelfarb says:

        I will do the same for Art of War, another good candidate.

Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Picture Reference : https://afhimelfarb.wordpress.com/2010/05/14/never-waste-a-good-crisis/ […]

  2. […] “In fact, the words can be traced back at least to Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” Machiavelli, and Emanuel after him, understood that crises shake people out of their complacency, create opportunities to challenge conventional wisdom and give leaders some room to take on vested interests and achieve transformative change.” […]



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: