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Communication as Tools for Survival: Lessons Learned from the Tsunami

by Bonni Carson DiMatteo, CMC

Part of what compounds the tragedy of the tsunami is that there was no developed technology or communication strategy to predict or relay the warnings to the many places on the peninsula and the surrounding islands. Had there been a system to assess and warn perhaps thousands of lives might have been saved. In fact, most of us might assume that the technology might have been the greater of the aids in preventing the tragedy. And certainly it might have helped. Yet technology's role of interpreting the data is only useful if leaders were able to focus on the information, respond, communicate effectively and create a call for action. As many of us know, we often miss the signs that spell disaster because we so often function in data overload.

The part of the world where the tsunami hit it is not a current epicenter for technological advancement. There is one part in the Indian Archipelago that, perhaps, absolutely defies technology. In fact, it considers any form of modern life an anathema to its values and lifestyle. This particular area has so eschewed the curiosity and input from modern society that anthropologists had to count the population from helicopters.

However, the irony is that what this area lacked in technology it more than made up for by being acutely aware of signs and sounds that told of disaster and leaders quickly communicated that knowledge to everyone, thereby saving almost everyone from tragedy.

The ancient lifestyle of the Paleolithic past was the key to survival for the Great Andamanese. It was in this indigenous, remote island on the Indian Archipelago that over 95 % survived. Their keys to survival were being acutely tuned into signs of subtle change that heralded disaster and then communicating them efficiently with a call to action. How can business leaders learn from this and keep their heads above the white noise of everyday distractions?

Can you imagine for a moment the focus, alertness and reaction needed to respond to this? Can you imagine how easy it can be to miss the sound of impending doom when there is a constant prattle of visual and auditory input to our senses daily? As leaders in technology, how can we learn from this and keep our heads above the white noise of everyday distractions? Anyone who spends one day at a corporation appreciates that the sheer abundance of projects, meetings, phone calls, and emails can distract you from keeping focus on the important issues and staying acutely aware of what might be an imminent threat or opportunity.

What are some of the lessons that can be learned from the Great Andamanese society? We might want to ask ourselves some important questions:
How can we master the communication technology rather than having it master us?

How often in the din of everyday business life of beepers, blackberries and cell phones do we miss important signals, trends?
What don't we hear and sense due to the constant distraction of 24/7 input? Often overload is exactly what keeps us from sorting out the important changes and prioritizing an action plan.
How many times have we missed a trend or opportunity because each day is a series of distractions, interruptions?
How are you staying tuned into seismic changes that are either opportunities or threats?
Could you sense the signs of catastrophe above the white noise?
Do you take time to listen, create, explore?
How do you take time out?
Do you control the technological communication or does it control you?
How do you turn off the static?
What is your priority each day?
How do the constant interruptions keep you from attending to innovation, strategy implementation, employee or customer enthusiasm?
What is the tsunami you are facing and what are your survival skills if it comes?
In an urgent situation could you communicate a call for action that would evoke a unified response?

As leaders our greatest source of wisdom may come from the ancient art of listening, sensing and focusing on the important internal and environmental signs, reacting with agility and then creating a clarion call to action.

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