The Missile Crisis

With a presidential debate on foreign policy tonight, it’s interesting that today is the 50th anniversary (boy do I feel old) of the start of the international incident known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re unfamiliar with this time, there is a great movie called Thirteen Days which captures that period in 1962 when the U.S. and the Soviet Union came very close to starting a nuclear war.  I vaguely remember the “duck and cover” drills in school but little else.  The basic facts are the we had deployed some missiles in Italy and Turkey; the Soviets retaliated by sending missiles to Cuba.  We implemented a naval blockade to stop the ships, the Soviets threatened to start a war if the blockade didn’t end.  Harsh words were exchanged and the  situation escalated into the unthinkable – a nuclear war that would wipe out 100,000,000 citizens of each country as well as create an environmental catastrophe for the entire planet.

What does this have to do with business (since that’s what we do here on the screed)?  Maybe you and a customer have a disagreement   Maybe your management team is aligned on goals but very far apart on how to achieve them.  Maybe you have a work team in which some folks do all the work while others get all the credit.  Those are just a few of the business situations which can escalate into the business equivalent of nuclear war.  Those situations usually involve lawyers, money, a lot of time, and most of your emotional energy.  They take away from the reasons you’re in business.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was solved by the parties realizing that they did share one goal – avoiding the mass casualties and planetary destruction that a nuclear war would bring.  Back-channel negotiations solved the problem in a way that accomplished that goal as well as each side’s own goals while saving face on both sides.  That’s how it gets done in business as well.  Obviously, the best situation is to anticipate things that could become problems and write careful agreements before the situations happen.  However, a lot of the time that’s not feasible  as in some of the cases above.  In those cases, the sides need to come together  identify the goals they DO share, and listen very carefully to the other side.  Avoid posturing – speak openly and honestly.  Think creatively.  Commit to solving the problem.

Few business issues (OK, none) are of the magnitude of those weeks 50 years ago but we can still learn from what occurred.  What thoughts do you have?  Ever gotten to “the brink” in your business life?

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