Weiji – The Mandarin Word for “Crisis”

weijiMost followers of corporate management pop psychology – you know, the ones who read Sun Zi’s Art of War, take their staff to team-building boot camps, hire 6 Sigma black belts, etc. – have heard the old trope that the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters, one of which means “danger”, and the other “opportunity.”  The implication being that those who would follow the wise ways of ancient China should embrace times of uncertainty and great change as opportunities to improve their lots.  That the bold and fearless can use situations like the current world financial crisis to their advantage.

First, before my erudite readers do it for me, let me tell you that the whole story about what the characters mean is wrong.  It was originally published anonymously in a small journal, then seized upon by politicians including JFK who brought it to prominence in the ’50s.  It is easy to see how it would propagate, this nugget-sized bite of golden advice.  Like, “Go big or go home,” and, “In for a dime, in for a dollar.”  But many people think its spread has caused more harm than good, encouraging rash decisions in troubled times when perhaps the safer, less daring way would be better.

From a marketing perspective, though, I think the advice has some value.  Doing things the same old, tried and true way that always worked in the past was fine in the past.  But the people we market to are changing and there is currently developing a “crisis” in how we can talk to them.  They’re spreading their attention over hundreds of TV channels, hundreds of millions of blogs, hundreds of text-pals, hundreds of Facebook pages, thousands of YouTube videos, thousands of Twitter tweets, thousands of Sirius and Web-based radio stations, and hundreds of emails a day.  So it is a time of great danger for traditional marketers, but also a time of great opportunity for those who would embrace the new reality and build honest one-to-one relationships with their customers.  Fortunately, that’s easy to do in a bar.