Oz's Business Continuity Blog 

Forget it!

With increasing regularity these days I seem to find myself asking the question “why am I here?”. Not in any deep, philosophical way, I hasten to add; rather when I’ve gone from one room to another then can’t remember why. Just the other day I got halfway upstairs before I remembered that we now have the requisite facilities downstairs (see “Time off in loo”). Worse still, I have been known to stand at the top of the stairs wondering whether I’d just gone up or was about to go down. And vice-versa.

And the number of times that, during a conversation – or, worse still, a presentation – I’ve asked the question (not expecting an answer, of course, as I don’t tend to do many presentations to groups of psychics) “what’s the word I’m looking for?”, having gone completely blank, is…erm…

The bizarre thing is that, almost as regularly, I’m able to dredge up some obscure incident, phrase, song lyric or whatever that I haven’t thought about for decades. The other day, for instance, in conversation with Mrs Oz, I remembered, without any trouble at all, the names of a couple of obscure bands from the 1970s, along with the names and, even more amazingly, the years that some of their records (yes kids, records – that’s what we used to call them in the olden days) were released. Goodness knows where that came from, given that most of the time I can’t remember what I did last week.

I suppose, when I think about it, memory lapses  often occur at times of stress (apart from the “why am I here?” issue, obviously, which is almost certainly an age thing) – for instance, when we’re having to deal with a difficult situation, or one that’s outside our comfort zone.

The activities associated with invoking our crisis management or business continuity plans can be just such a situation, when the associated stress and adrenaline can make us forget even the most basic things. Such as what our priorities are; or who’s dealing with which issues; or logging our events and decisions; or that we promised to call someone important at a certain time; or that we’re able to speak a foreign language (yes, really, this has actually happened); or that we do, in fact, have a crisis management or business continuity plan with some useful information in it.

So, whilst some things may seem blindingly obvious in the cold light of day when we’re creating our plans, we really should try to imagine the situation we may be in when we’re using those plans in anger, which might just be a teeny bit tense and stressful. That’s not to say that we need to document absolutely everything we can think of in minute detail, but we might consider including the stuff that’s really important for us to remember – such as our key priorities, our critical dependencies, our CARE message, our “what if?” and “so what?” questions, and so forth – to provide an aide-mémoire when we most need it.

Of course, none of this will be much use if we do then forget that we have a plan in the first place, and therefore don’t even look at it – which is more common than you might think.

The mind is a curious thing. If you’re anything like me, there will be times when you amaze yourself with the stuff you can recall and other times when you need just a little bit of guidance to help you remember whether you’re supposed to be going up or down the proverbial stairs.


Related articles : “Less is more“; “The main thing“; “Log it or lose it“; “Take CARE“; “Questions,questions


Agree? Disagree? Want to share your own thoughts or opinions?

Leave a reply (below) and let me know what you think.


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




4 responses to “Forget it!”

  1. Andy Smith says:

    Hi Andy

    An intersting piece. There was a study undertaken in the states that found that, at times of stress, people don’t necessarily revert to bad habits however they do revert to their habits in general. Ergo if someone is prepared and has a practised capability that’s what they’ll fall back on. Equally a complete lack of familiarity with procedures, or a plan, will lead to a reversion to their “norm” and a less, perhaps, structured, response.

    A driver for training and exercising if ever i heard one!

    • Andy says:

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for your comment. You raise an interesting point about people reverting to habits, good or bad. In my experience, people also have a habit of focusing on what they know or what they’re comfortable with, rather than necessarily what’s important (which may be the same thing as your habit observation really), which is why it’s important to clearly show what our priorities are in our plans.

      Back to the subject of reverting to habits, I said in one of my presentations a while ago that practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect but it does make permanent, so it’s important to practise the right things. I also wrote a Tip of the Month about it at https://www.acumen-bcp.co.uk/BusinessContinuity/?id=179 if you’re interested.


      PS I hope the new job’s going well

  2. Chris Miller says:

    Thanks for another interesting blog, Andy. I smiled as I remembered an exercise, some years ago, with a group of senior managers, when I was an observer. Their EAs all made sure they had nice folders with their BCP at the ready. These were diligently placed in front of them on a very large U shaped conference table. The exercise proceeded with no reference to the plan until one of their alternates quietly said: “Don’t we have a plan for this?” Indeed we did, but they got so focused on the scenario that they forgot they even had a plan, and it was in front of them for their ready reference. Clearly, more exercising was required for that team.

    • Andy says:

      Hi Chris,

      Now why doesn’t that surprise me? In the overwhelming majority of the (many) exercises I’ve facilitated over the years, I could probably count, not quite on the fingers of one hand but probably on both hands plus a few toes, how many incident management teams actually referred to their plans without being prompted to do so.

      The reality is that people don’t turn to page one of their plans to see what to do when things go pear-shaped. Perhaps that’s because they’re not familiar enough with what’s in their plans, or maybe because the plans aren’t very well structured and it’s difficult to find the information they actually need (often because the useful stuff doesn’t appear for 20 or 30 pages, so turning to page 1 is no use anyway! – see my latest Tip of the Month “What’s the use?” at http://acumen-bcp.co.uk/totm/). Rather they fall back on their knowledge and experience and, as Andy points out, their habits.

      Which really emphasises the need for regular reminders and, more importantly, exercises to keep the incident management and business continuity thought process alive and embedded. At least I think it does. What do others think?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *