The Heuristic Value of Good and Bad Crisis Management

The Heuristic Value of
Good and Bad Crisis Management


Leonard Zwelling

         Yesterday, March 26 will go down as a day of learning,
particularly self-learning. It will have heuristic value.

         In a stunning development, French prosecutors have notified
the world that the crash of the Germanwings flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf
was no accident. Rather, the young (28 year old) co-pilot, apparently in the
cockpit by himself, deliberately flew the plane into the Alps killing all aboard.
Not only is the news shocking, but the deliberate, business like and rapid
dissemination of this information to the world by the French is at great
variance with the way most other news stories are reported as they develop.
What 24 hours ago looked like a mystery months from a solution, has been solved
with the results of the analysis of the cockpit voice recorder AND delivered to
the media in very short order—accurately and completely. Kudos to the French!

         (It should be noted that this crash is being described as an
act of “mass murder” while the September 11, 2001 crash of two planes into the
World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, acts as deliberate as this one, were dubbed “terrorism.” I
am not sure I get this distinction without difference).

         Also this morning, we learned that young (also 28) ‘Bo’
Bergdahl, the American serviceman captured by the Taliban and imprisoned for 5
years before being exchanged for 5 Guantanamo inmates, was and is, a deserter
whose absence caused his fellow soldiers to try to find him. During this
search, some of the potential rescuers were killed. It is likely that Bergdahl
will be prosecuted by the military. Whether he will serve any additional time
as punishment is as yet unclear.

         However, unlike the case of the crashed plane in the which
the adults disseminated the truth rapidly, in the case of Bergdahl, the President
of the United States hosted his parents in the Rose Garden long before the
soldier’s true status was revealed, and Susan Rice said he “served with honor
and distinction.” These are extremely unwise actions on the part of American
leaders and now they are wearing egg on their faces—again! (Susan Rice seems
to have an omelet permanently distributed across her forehead.)

         The heuristic value of these news stories is:

1. Assume nothing about the facts of a story until you
learn them.

2. Keep your mouth shut until you do learn them.

3. Once you learn them get the facts out to the media and the
world as fast and as clearly as possible.

French followed these rules in the case of the air crash investigation; the
President and his crew did not in the case of the Bergdahl story. These are
teachable moments and they are heuristic ones for us all. The French have shown
us how it is done. The President, once again, did not.

the context of events at Anderson, these stories have relevance. Division Heads
and Executive Vice Presidents and others vanish from positions of
responsibility with no clear delineation of why—even to the deposed. The leadership
of the institution is repeatedly caught dong awful things and yet never owns up
to the facts nor explains their actions (nepotism, self-dealing and conflicts
of interest). The underlings of the President of MD Anderson do some heinous
acts without explanation and then wonder why we can’t all just get along.

than we, perhaps it is they, Drs. DePinho, Buchholz and Dmitrovsky, who could
learn from the heuristic events of March 26. The public can handle the truth.
What they will not do is follow putative leadership efforts when being lied to
and knowing it. There may be no more demoralizing and “de-morale-izing” trick
of the current MD Anderson administration than its prevarication by omission.
No one really knows what happened or why and then these leaders wonder why they
are not trusted and the faculty members wonder why the leadership’s obsequious
apologists, always good for a comment or two at any town hall, do not believe
that the faculty can see through their nonsense.

in the Pickens Hood, wake up. The faculty is not stupid. They know what you are
up to and they need no more lessons in duplicitousness to grasp the goals of
the leadership of the cancer center. Just stop wondering why they don’t trust
you. They shouldn’t trust you any more than the Israelis trust President Obama
to negotiate with the Iranians. Both you and the POTUS have proven to be
untrustworthy and you cannot get this trust back no matter what Chancellor
McRaven thinks.

really would hasten the inevitable if you would all just go away.   

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