Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

I just read an extract of the book, ‘’Without Warning’’ by Rodney Johnson (http://www.withoutwarningcoach.com/blog/the-book/)

This book has some valuable lessons for Reputation Managers, such as the question: Do you have an uncomfortable suspicion that your business has a problem lurking in its depths? Is there an issue that you keep catching a glimpse of out of the corner of your eye, but can’t quite get hold of?

This is what Rodney N Johnson’s book, ‘Without Warning’ is about, and he calls these ’silent problems’, as opposed to simple, complex or wicked problems.

  • A simple problem is one in which everyone agrees on the problem and on the solution. If not solved correctly, this could become a complex problem.
  • A complex problem: one in which everyone agrees on the problem, but disagrees on the solution.
  • A wicked problem: a problem (or nest of problems), in which people disagree over what the problem is, so a solution can’t be identified, and without agreement on the problem or a defined solution, you won’t know when the problem has been solved. Different groups of stakeholders understand the problem differently; any proposed solutions can’t be tested or evaluated other than subjectively.


But a silent problem is different, and Rodney Johnson (RJ) defines it like this:

A problem that is being avoided, neglected, or going unnoticed… A problem that is intentionally being silenced.

This is perhaps the worst kind of problem of all. At least a wicked problem can be acknowledged and struggled with. But one that you’re not aware of? How are you supposed to deal with that?

Whose problem is it?

One of the many silent problems RJ uses as case-studies is the sub-prime financial fallout which we’re all too familiar with now – warnings were given, but disregarded.

Question: if someone able to impose a solution had been willing to say ‘here’s a problem’, would it then have become a complex or wicked problem? That is, is it a silent problem only as long as no-one with enough authority to deal with it has spotted it or taken responsibility for it?

If there were warnings, then someone was aware of the problem, so it wasn’t silent for them – but presumably they didn’t have the clout to tackle the issue. A silent problem, then, is a leadership issue: it is a problem that is being ignored by management.

You’re the manager: how do you know if there is a silent problem? Or do you wait for a whistleblower or until the Media conducts an investigation?

This extract really made me think – Do we wait until reputation risk manifest? Or do we deal with issues whilst they are small? Are we prepared as Dr Roger von Oech wrote in the book, A Whack on the Side of the Head, to slay some sacred cows. To ask, which sacred cows or hidden problem can destroy our hard-earned and carefully crafted reputation?

Read more: http://www.chloregy.org/opinion/leadership/16406-without-warning-on-leadership-whistleblowers-corporate-culture-andnsilence

This book has implications for communication channels and risk experts.