Much as with everything else, Shanghai is throwing up new academic challenges just to mess with the already challenging language and lifestyle barrier that exists in this new city. Not that that's a bad thing. It's just one more thing.
My first ever four day elective and I'm wondering whether I want to work like this again. Sitting and doing work from 9am to 5pm across four days, particularly the weekend, is not only exhausting, it's also something I'm completely not used to.
But of course, this wasn't just any course, this was Crisis Management and Crisis Communication, taught by a crisis consultant. Of course, it helped that he is a Sandhurst graduate. And served for NATO in Bosnia. So I think, when it comes to crises, he would be the kind of person I would want in my corner to deal with things.
Four days of mixing crisis and communication science and theory with real life case study discussions and acting out scenarios. I think if anything, I either really want to go into crisis communication after graduation, or I never want to see it again. It's one of the two extremes, there's really no middle ground here.
For me, the best part of the course was the scenarios we had to deal with. Over the course of three hours on Saturday morning, our team was informed that our shipping company's ship had been hijacked by pirates, who were asking for $25 million as ransom for the crew of 15 and the cargo of palm oil worth $200 million. Deal with this.
The problem we had was that before we could really react to anything, more information and developments kept occurring, which meant we had to keep changing strategy. But of course, by the time we were ready to implement our new strategy, something new would happen. And again. And again. And again...
Until about 2 hours into the simulation, we get information that CNN has broadcast live pictures of pirates throwing a dead body overboard which looks like our crew member.
My heart sank. I couldn't believe it. I looked around, everybody had stopped for a second. Faces were serious, upset. Somebody swore under their breath. We were dejected. Here we were, trying everything to get our crew and ship back safe, mitigating the damage, speaking to the pirates and the press and mercenaries, and it looked like we had lost one of our own in the most violent way. But this crisis was still ongoing, and we needed to see it till our press conference.
It's worth mentioning at this point that none of this actually happened. None of us work for a shipping company, nobody's ship was hijacked, and for sure, nobody died. But we were so caught up with everything that was happening that somewhere along the entire process, we forgot we were MBA's in a class. Instead, we were United Gulf Shipping, and we had lost an employee on live TV.
That night, through sheer luck, I was able to go out for dinner with a few friends. It was important that I did this because that day in class had been intense. As I ate what was genuinely spicy food (in China, when you say spicy, they really do spicy), I kept thinking about how relaxed we were, celebrating a birthday and each other's company. Just a few hours earlier, I was devastated at the violent loss of a fictional employee.
The next day, we were put into another scenario. A baby is sick in Saudi Arabia, after ingesting one of our baby food products. Deal with it.
The only issue here was that unlike the previous day, where information was coming thick and fast, here we couldn't get any information. What was the product, what did the baby eat, what were the details, what was in our can of food, had it been tampered with, where was it manufactured, was this even really our product?
In the middle of all this non-information, we have the press asking questions, the Saudi Ministry of Health who has banned all our products, and...a dead baby.
Oh and guess what? Looks like there's been another incident in Shanghai.
Over seven hours, we wrapped our heads around what was an intense but slow moving situation, demanding answers, questioning tactics, critiquing strategies...it was probably the most stress I've had up till now in Shanghai.
But so totally worth it.
The whole course has been unbelievably eye-opening. I understand now just how wrong BP got their whole communication with Deepwater Horizon. I actually understand the need for scenario planning and a crisis team. These things happen very suddenly, and being informed of a situation that is involves you and your company, and you know you will be heavily invested in to resolve, creates this little pit of emptiness in your stomach. Even if it isn't real.
Shanghai has been an exceptional experience till now. I just hope that I don't have to use what I learnt to deal with any personal crisis while I'm here. I'd like to leave with happy memories. Of real human happiness and fake corporate crises.