The Crisis/Opportunity Meme
- or -
Sometimes a Problem is Just a Problem

I've noticed this a lot lately. While listening to someone speak they get to the point where you would think the next word out of their mouth is going to have to be "problem" or "disaster" or "fiasco" and you can see them start to form such a negatively connotated word. But then - slight pause - mental gears grinding furiously - and the word which actually emerges is "opportunity".

It could be some CEO quoted on the business news with a gem like this: "We view the fact we have spent 70 million dollars of venture capital and managed, thus far, to bring in $27.50 in revenue as a huge prob... er opportunity which will strengthen our resolve to dominate in this market."

Behind all of this is a meme which goes as follows:

The Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of two symbols: "danger" and "opportunity".

I went searching for some evidence to prove or disprove the correctness of this linguistic analysis1. In the course of doing this I found many examples of this quote (or something very much like it) used in the context of a motivational speech. It seems to be a great line to use when one's crew is about ready to mutiny and one is grasping for some way to prevent the inevitable. Then again, there are cases where a crisis can lead to thinking out of the box and cause a change in direction with good consequences.

Regardless of what you think about the wisdom of the Chinese, this fact remains: Sometimes a problem is just a problem. If you just locked your keys in the car, what you have is a problem. If you failed to make your house payment for three months in a row, what you have is a problem. If you jump out of an airplane and then remember you left your parachute in the overhead bin, what you have is a problem (but at least it's one which will be resolved fairly quickly).

1. I hate citing URLs on E2 because they are so brittle. A google search for "crisis opportunity" will render a ton of results. There is a nice writeup on