I spent much of my time over the past few weeks in my own little world, largely oblivious to everything going on around me. No change there, some might say, but on this occasion I have an excuse.
A small problem with my ears had snuck up on me while I wasn’t looking. Or listening. Not the weird lobe-lengthening that comes with ageing – that’s just something else to look forward to. And not the strange phenomenon of the unfeasibly long hairs that occasionally, but suddenly pop out of them, as if by magic, overnight. No, this particular problem wasn’t anything to do with aural aesthetics, and it was more internal than external.
It started with a very slight hissing noise in my head. Not loud enough to drown out the more usual voices, but noticeable nonetheless. It got progressively worse over a period of a few months, and I started hearing it in bed at night. It wasn’t bad enough to keep me awake but I began thinking I ought to get get my lugs checked out. However, I had lots of more important things to do so, true to form, I didn’t actually get around to booking a doctor’s appointment for ages. Not until I started waking up some mornings partially deaf in my right ear. At which point – or at least after this had gone on for a few weeks, by which time the right ear deafness had become constant – I decided to book an appointment, with all the grief that that entailed (see ‘Whats up doc?‘).
It turned out that I had a bit of a problem with wax. I’ll spare you the detail but it had, by all accounts, reached epic and immovable proportions, an affliction that, apparently, hadn’t been helped by my use of earplugs, which I often wear when I’m staying away due to my uncanny ability to be given the room with the world’s noisiest bathroom fan or air conditioning unit (see ‘The ramblings of a travelling consultant, part 6 (episode 1)‘); or the one next door to the least considerate, noisiest person in the hotel; or the lifts; or the late-night disco. That and just possibly an overly-enthusiastic use of cotton buds, which I thought were supposed to help one clean the wax out of ones ears, although it turns out they’re actually the otic equivalent of a ramrod. So it would seem that my condition was, at least partially, self-inflicted.
The doctor told me that I needed to have my ears syringed but that, in order for this to be effective, I had to apply some ear-drops, a couple of times a day, for a few days beforehand. He told me to book an appointment for a week hence – oh, joy (‘What’s up doc?’ again). So once again I ‘phoned the surgery an asked for an appointment sometime the following week. I was given one in two weeks’ time. Ho hum.
So I dutifully applied the ear-drops. The mistake I made, however, was to follow the doctor’s instructions and apply them to both ears, instantly adding partial deafness in my left ear to the almost total deafness in my right. Perfect. Still, only two weeks to go, eh.
As luck would have it, I was, somewhat unusually, but thankfully, in the office for the majority of those two weeks. I did, however, have two conference calls, a meeting and a workshop to facilitate, at which I suspect the participants probably wondered why I kept standing quite so close and staring quite so intently at them.
The night before my syringing, Mrs Oz, in an act of either wanton vindictiveness or comic genius (I still haven’t worked out which) suggested that the family play a game she’d recently bought. It’s called ‘Accentuate’ and the description on the box calls it “the hilarious guess the accent game”. You can probably see where this is going, but I’ll press on anyway. In this game, players take turns to pick two cards, one of which contains a quote from a film and the other an accent (French, Australian, Dutch, Glaswegian, Cockney, Scouse, New York or whatever). The player whose turn it is has to read the quote to their team-mates in the requisite accent and they have to guess the accent and the name of the film. Quite straightforward really, although not necessarily that easy – particularly if you’re stone deaf! Can you guess how well my team did?
Whilst not exactly catastrophic, my experience served as a reminder that, whilst our business continuity plans often focus on responding to a sudden, dramatic incident, they’re not all like that. Some creep up on us while our attention is elsewhere, and something that starts off as a relatively minor issue deteriorates, particularly if we a) don’t notice it, b) ignore it or c) fail to address the underlying issues. Sadly, there are far too many case studies of disasters that should never have happened; that could have been averted if only some really obvious risks had been mitigated or someone had spotted the fact that something was going pear-shaped and had actually done something about it.
Business continuity and crisis management aren’t just about responding to incidents, or crises, after the event. They’re as much about prevention as they are about response. After all, why have a disaster or crisis if you don’t have to?
But that means we need effective risk management and robust event/issues management, with perhaps a smattering of horizon scanning so we can spot the threats before they actually hit us. It also requires a culture that encourages, rather than discourages, people to highlight potential risks and issues, which, unfortunately, is a far from universal trait. If you don’t believe me, just read some of the aforementioned case studies.
Clearly not all disruptive incidents can be avoided, so our incident response and contingency plans are really important. But a great many can, with a bit of forethought and a bit of effort.
I’m delighted to report that the syringing went splendidly well and, after a few seconds of unpleasantness, I could suddenly hear again. Which was a huge relief. The downside is that I can no longer ignore my sons when they ask me for something. And, to be fair, I’m not sure my attempts at a Scouse or New York accent have improved any.
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Andy Osborne (known as Oz to friends and colleagues) is the Consultancy Director at Acumen, a consultancy practice specialising in business continuity and risk management.
Andy is the author of the books ‘Practical Business Continuity Management‘, ‘Risk Management Simplified‘ and ‘Ski Boots and Celery – A Compilation of Oz’s Business Continuity Blogs‘, as well as his popular blogs and ‘Tips of the Month’, all of which aim to demystify the subjects of business continuity and risk management and make them more accessible to people who live in the real world.
You can follow Andy on Twitter at @AndyatAcumen and link with him on LinkedIn at http://uk.linkedin.com/in/andyosborneatacumen