Crisis does not equal opportunity (even though the Chinese say otherwise)

Interesting analysis of one of the most common phrases of recent times. For the author, crisis and opportunity are not the same.

“The crisis is an opportunity”. Have you ever heard this statement? I do, at least 500 times. The last time was during a leaders’ congress in Buenos Aires.

I couldn’t stand my curiosity and asked the speaker why he supported this idea with such conviction and his response was: “because the ideogram that the Chinese use to name ‘crisis’ is constructed by juxtaposition of those corresponding to ‘danger’ and ‘opportunity’‘”. Then he proudly showed me the famous ideogram applied at full size on a PowerPoint slide.

It was a wonderful tautological explanation. Dangerous too. Clichés block thought because they are repeated ad nauseam and become unquestionable truths, mental sediment that is difficult to remove.

I want to “undo” this “common phrase” or at least unravel it a little by listing some reasons why I consider that crises are not synonymous with opportunity:

Crisis is crisis and opportunity is opportunity. They are not interchangeable terms. A person looking for a “job opportunity” would never say: Are you giving me a “job crisis” to work in your company?

Crises bring more pain than happiness. I don’t have statistical data but I think that when things get bad, the percentage of people who become anxious, depressed or scared is higher than those who become happy and enthusiastic. Negative emotions are not the best fuel to start the engine of creativity or inspiration.

It is natural for a person who is in danger to do something to try to save themselves. But it is very likely that the action he takes will be ineffective because he had to decide it under pressure and in a short time. The crisis is the breeding ground for reactions and, although they can be “saving”, they will never be better than the ideas that are planned with time, sufficient resources and peace of mind.

It is often argued that the crisis is positive because it forces people to come out of their drowsiness, reinvent themselves and learn new things. However, I do not find anything positive about a shipwreck giving me the “opportunity” to learn to swim in 5 minutes. I prefer to take classes twice a week at a club pool and start in the shallow end.

If it were true, the coolest creations of recent years would have to have emerged from bankrupt countries. For example, in Argentina we suffered a great blow in 2001 and yet that year no compatriot made a significant discovery in genetic engineering, information technologies, renewable energy, nor did anyone think of creating Facebook or Twitter, nor were any theories presented. innovative in fields related to politics, sociology, psychology and others. It is true that original ideas emerged, such as “barter clubs,” for example, but they were survival strategies rather than long-term projects.

It is one thing to open a business by decision and another to do it out of desperation. A crisis generates false entrepreneurs: people who have to create their own business to have some source of income. In general, they tend to be short-lived and disappear when the individual is able to re-enter the labor market.

Negative contexts make people think three times before opening a business, changing their car, investing in education, having a child, taking a trip, lending money or investing. The crisis reduces consumption, production and therefore opportunities. And although there will always be someone who finds a way to become a millionaire in the midst of ruins, on a global level we are all becoming poorer.

Opportunities are always at someone else’s expense. For example, a crisis can be an opportunity for agencies that specialize in digital advertising because many advertisers can no longer invest fortunes in filming spots and advertising on television. These agencies make money because the traditional ones lose it. At the domestic level, a person may find the ideal opportunity to buy an apartment at a low price only because another person needs to sell it quickly to get money. Moments of economic stability are a thousand times better because they provide genuine opportunities and the growth of one sector does not depend on the collapse of the other. There is enough for everyone, wealth is multiplied, the “cake” is enlarged.

The crisis often pulverizes the intelligence of a society and leads it to look for scapegoats, “hunt witches,” be enchanted by negative leaders, adopt Manichean thoughts or buy magical and quick solutions. History is full of examples.

It is true that a crisis causes people, companies or countries to change their attitudes or behaviors. But they are generally false changes because they are born of desperation and not of free choice. That’s why when the crisis ends, the previous situation is usually reestablished and everything goes back to square one.

I compare it to a person who, after recovering from a heart attack, promises that he will start exercising every morning, eating healthy foods, and working fewer hours. What happens next? As soon as he gets better, he goes back to eating hamburgers and fries, lying in an armchair and having a beer.

I travel a lot in Latin America, almost half the year I am away from Buenos Aires, and in all countries I meet people who are proud of the “creativity of his people” and that “They always manage to overcome all the problems”.

I wonder: if the crisis makes us so intelligent, why are we not able to solve the underlying problems? Honestly, I don’t want us Argentinians, Chileans or Colombians to be so creative. I prefer that we be very “slow and stupid” like the people of those poor towns in Switzerland, Norway or Finland who have to suffer the evils of stability, long-term thinking and certainty.

My dad is Polish and my mom is the daughter of Italians and French. I remember that when I was a child my grandparents philosophized about Argentina and explained to me that my country was not a “world power” because, paradoxically, we had everything: sea, land, livestock, minerals, oil, good education, etc. Even today I hear many compatriots say that our problem is that “We never went hungry nor did they drop an atomic bomb on us”. These reasonings attribute a redemptive character to the crisis and those who support it usually give the example of Japan or post-war Europe.

I always distrusted those “explanations”, even as a child. Are these countries prosperous thanks to the crisis or despite it? Because the US has everything, like Argentina, and is a power, and on the other hand there are others who were “fortunate” to have had many crises and are still poor.

Many foolish things are born from good intentions. Those who repeat that the crisis is an opportunity do so because they are good people and they want people not to become paralyzed or feel like victims of circumstances. But unfortunately they fall, without realizing it, into the same trap they are trying to avoid: determinism. Because according to his point of view, human beings depend on having water up to their necks to want to learn to swim.

I propose a constructive alternative: consider that the crisis is not an opportunity, but that oneself is one. That finding and generating opportunities depends on us and that we do not need a crisis to wake up from drowsiness or broken synapses. In a word: trust again in our capacity for action and celebrate stability, because when things are going well, the fertile field expands where we can sow and reap a good future.