Victor H. Mair, a Chinese philologist at the University of Pennsylvania corrects what he says is a long-standing popular misinterpretation of the Chinese word for “crisis.”  It is often mentioned as the symbols noting “danger” plus “opportunity.”  He notes that the portion interpreted as “danger” (or “precarious”) is accurate, but the portion often referred to as “opportunity” would be more accurately described as “critical point.”

When it comes to core values, a crisis can be a dangerously critical point.

As I was beginning to write Return On Integrity, I had the opportunity to meet up with Jerry Porras, coauthor with Jim Collins of Built to Last.  We were talking about values and Jerry said, “we truly understand what our core values are when they are put to the test.” This is precisely what makes Victor Mair’s further clarification of the Chinese word for “crisis” noteworthy.  It is indeed a critical point.

I told Jerry that I thought he was right on-target.  I also believe the moment Jerry describes as “the test” is a horrible time to start figuring out your core values.

He agreed!

Without an intentionally grounded and frequently visited set of personal and organizational core values, a crisis is certainly a dangerously critical point. However, when grounded in a set of core values, every crisis is an opportunity to further deepen your understanding and commitment to those values.