The Burning House Analogy

Jeff Fox
10 min readJul 23, 2021

The different stages of dealing with a crisis and the wrong order we seem determined to put them in.

A crisis can be something small and individually personal like forgetting your lunch when you leave the house in the morning. It can be intense and targeted like a tornado touching down. And a crisis can be life-or-death on a massive scale such as the risk of open war between nations. Whatever the scope or stakes, large or small, all crises are at their root the same animal. A suddenly urgent scenario requiring immediate action because inaction will result in guaranteed negative consequences.

Every crisis arises from something, there is a cause which generates the sudden and urgent situation. We haven’t been getting enough sleep the past several days leaving us groggy in the mornings and susceptible to forgetting things. Extreme temperatures and humidity collide giving rise to violently intense weather. Long seated animosities between rival nations can be sparked out of control by a catalytic event.

No matter the source or scale of a crisis they have to be dealt with, it is at the very core of their definition. They do not give us a choice we have to deal with them. We have to make other arrangements for our lunch. We have to seek protective shelter from the tornado. We have to find a way to manage the stress of potential war or worse try to survive the conflict should it occur.

Whatever the crisis there are four stages to effectively and definitively dealing with it. They follow a clear and very logical order and the crisis is not truly resolved until we have completed all four of them. The larger the scale of the crisis the less likely we are to have access to, or power over, all of the stages but true resolution still requires all four nonetheless.

The Correct Order

Deal With The Immediate Danger

The first is the most obvious and is at the heart of what makes something a crisis. Before anything else can be done we have to navigate our way through the urgency of the moment. We can’t do anything about our sleeping habits or morning routines until we figure out what we are going to eat for lunch so we can make it through the rest of the day. We can’t do anything about house repairs, insurance plans, or considerations…

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Jeff Fox

A professional dancer, choreographer, theatre creator, and featured TEDx speaker with an honours degree in psychology, two black belts, and a lap-top.