The Space Between Stimulus and Response

I listen to a variety of podcasts when I’m in the car for any stretch of time. They range in subject from NPR feel-good stories to tech news to startup podcasts and each one captures my interest in a different way. One that I listen to somewhat infrequently is from the organization Reboot that centers around conversations one of the founders, Jerry Colanna, has with entrepreneurs and other CEO types. Jerry is sometimes referred to as “the CEO Whisperer” because he has an ability to quickly break down a leader and dissect their strengths and what’s holding them back.

A recent episode was titled the same as this post: “The Space Between Stimulus and Response” and aligned very closely to what we deal with in business continuity, specifically around crisis management. Jerry starts off with a quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In a crisis, how powerful is it if we focus our thoughts and our pre-planning around the moments between an event and how we respond to it? Do we have time to stop and think or does “muscle memory” kick in and we respond without conscious thought when an event takes place?

Jerry’s interviewee on this episode, Nicole Glaros of Techstars, introduces the parallel of boxing to the discussion. Through careful yet repetitious practice, boxing becomes second nature and the responses come from the limbic system instead of the pre-frontal cortex in the brain. There isn’t time to stop and think, one just reacts to the blows as they are coming at you. But what happens when you can slow the time down between the initial event and your response?

The tie-ins to crisis management run deep here as both areas seek to build and extend resiliency through properly measured and timed responses. When we plan for and exercise crisis management plans, how much thought is put into the evaluation process before we respond? More importantly, how can we maximize that time so that we consider all of the options yet get out ahead of the story before it’s told on our behalf and have a sense of self awareness about our messaging?

Jerry says it nicely when he refers to the classic Mike Tyson quote about having a plan: “Resiliency is the capacity to recover when punched in the face.”

To listen to the original podcast, please go to

Crowds in Crises

Back in 2015 the world was captivated by the Universal film “Jurassic World”. Viewers praised Chris Pratt’s performance in this science fiction thriller, but were more entertained by a different kind of hero. During a pterosaur attack causing resort guests to push, shove, and trample each other as they flee, a man is spotted grabbing two margaritas before seeking his own safety…or the safety of the second margarita’s owner. #priorities

Movies typically depict a crowd’s response to an emergency or disaster scenario as emotionally driven, almost irrationally selfish. It’s widely assumed that as mass hysteria and panic take hold of a crowd, people do whatever they can to better serve themselves. But does this actually occur off the screens? Are we really all the margarita man?

Social psychology says no. Research dating back as far as the 1950’s show that behavior in disaster response is generally pro-social and collaboratively altruistic. History backs this theory up.

  • The SAGE Journals article – Panic: Myth or Reality? contains testimonies from 9/11 survivors recalling the feeling of together-ness and calmness rather than panic. They provided over 30 pages of stories where people were helping one another.
  • An article published by The Guardian paints a picture of camaraderie through the eyes of 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami survivors. Memories include a man making sure a child’s safety was secured before his own, a volunteer boat crew devoting an entire day to rescue efforts, and people transporting strangers to hospitals.
  • The International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters reported that the pre-existing norms of queuing, men assisting women and children first, and able bodied people helping the elderly and impaired had emerged during the 2005 London Bombings.

Mass media do a poor job of displaying the true heroism in human behavior. The internet is saturated with statistics and stories of altruistic behavior in the face of emergencies and disasters. If your perspective of crowds in crises is still influenced by movies, I’ll leave you with this:

“In Hollywood, no one knows anything”- William Goldman

(and he wrote the cherished classic The Princess Bride…which is basically the equivalent of being omniscient…just something to consider)