The first week of September, 2001, I was conducting a workshop for the “big five” accounting firms in World Trade Center 2. As a co-founder of FSIX (The Financial Services Information Exchange), I was leading a brainstorming session on how banks and stock transfer companies could implement proactive quality management auditing.
Based on the International Quality Standard ISO 9000, we had drafted FS 9000 as the new benchmark of avoiding defects and financial misconduct to eventually eliminate the need for traditional expensive and minimally effective punitive financial auditing. It was a seminal time with the financial services world coming together to consider overhauling an antiquated system of massively expensive detection and punishment processes.
The next FSIX meeting was scheduled for early October. It never happened. 9-11 happened. The banks and commodities companies went into disaster recovery mode. With no benchmark to follow, they were individually creating triage plans dealing with loss of human life and loss of their infrastructure. FS9000 was placed in hibernation.
We began calling our colleagues and participants in the FS9000 initiative to offer help in them recovering their businesses. The conversations with the survivors evolved into an opportunity for me to chronicle their individual stories of the apocalypse and how they were able to escape certain death. I became aware that I had assumed the role of a scribe to a Kairos Moment.
Biblical scholars coined the term Kairos Moment as a fleeting moment of wisdom to be captured and documented after a natural or manmade disaster. Many parables in the bible are retellings of Kairos Moments that are used as teaching tools to help us avoiding future cataclysmic mistakes.
I have selected three diverse Kairos Moments from 9-11 worth relating that may help you in your business and personal lives.
My personal Financial Consultant at Merrill Lynch was in the World Trade Center during the attack. He somehow managed his way down dozens of flights of stairs and out of the building. The smoke and debris were so thick that there were few references of direction. He did make his way to the Hudson River and planned to swim away from the immediate ground zero. Instead, he landed on the deck of a ferry boat and made his way to New Jersey and to his home. When he arrived, his wife asked what he was doing home so early in the day. They soon after divorced.
While interviewing the Quality Manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, we obtained a most unexpected quote. They had just completed implementing the process model of the ISO 9000 quality standard. The profound quote was that, “if it weren’t for the processes and proactive audit mechanisms we just implemented, we would likely not have survived the aftermath of 9-11”
Finally, a decade after 9-11, I received a call from the retired VP of Quality of CitiGroup. He said he had reflected on the benefits that FSIX could have brought to the world of finance and of opportunities lost. His final comment was that, if we had successfully implemented FS9000, it would likely not have been possible for the Enron criminal financial malfeasance to have happened undetected.
What Kairos Moments have you witnessed? Did you take time to reflect on the lessons that could be mined from the events? Did you implement proactive steps to ensure similar disasters could not happen in the future? Learning how to mine wisdom from disaster may be one of the most valuable tools you could ever have in your personal and business arsenal.