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Lessons from a hurricane

The power is still off. Without electricity, the house is hot, and the water is cold. There is no coffee. The power went off shortly after midnight and shows no indication of coming back on. I’m not psychic—there’s a power pole knocked over in the middle of the street with a cluster of people standing aimlessly around it.

Before September 13, 2008, a morning without electricity would have sent our household into a tailspin. Frantic to start the day, get ready for work, and send Son 3.0 off to school. We would have been angry that things were happening too slowly, yelling at no person in particular, "Come on, do your job, what’s wrong with you? Why are you just standing there looking at the pole? Are you willing it to work? Somebody do something!"

What changed on that particular day? Hurricane Ike dumped 53 inches of water in our house, and we lived for four weeks with no electricity, hot water, or flushing toilets. At the end of the ordeal, teenage Son 2.0 said, “I know this has not been easy, but it has been fun getting to know the neighbors, watching everyone come together, finding ways to make things work, and looking for new ideas of entertaining ourselves.”

That's the beauty of a crisis: you quickly sum up who needs to be where and what must be done. Then you make note of everything for the next time. There will be a next time.

In business and life, the lessons are the same.

A crisis or a big problem is not the end; it can be the beginning of many great things. It's a time to build or strengthen your relationships. You learn who you can turn to, who you can rely on, and who should step up and lead. You learn who you want to go into battle with and who is best left back to care for the homestead.

As with any major event, personal solitude is often destroyed. You're all but forced to rely on others; often a stranger. You must work as a team. As the days wear on, you better align yourself with the people who say, “Sure, let’s give it a try,” as opposed to those who can’t function in change.

You also learn who to remove entirely from the situation. Some people must go for you to move forward. Part of this new team will inevitably be discarded while others naturally (and for you happily), move on once the power comes back. The delightful surprise is with those that integrate into your ‘new normal’.

The aftermath of a hurricane is not unlike any other major problem that upends your daily routine. You learn to innovate; you get creative while stepping back, taking a breath, and assessing the situation. You only have so many resources and so many hours in the day. Often you have to leverage money against time to get something done.

Communication channels change in a crisis. During Hurricane Ike, regular phone lines, cable, and Internet were all gone. We relied almost entirely on cellular service and quickly learned who would share minutes and chargers.

Bottom line in a crisis: Figure out what went wrong, what worked and what didn’t, and who did or did not do something best. Move forward with the lessons.

Bottom line in a crisis: Figure out what went wrong, what worked and what didn’t, and who did or did not do something best. Move forward with those lessons. Write things down and use it to create a plan and a team for next time. Yes, there will be a next time. Put that plan where everyone can find it—in a digital file, on an app such as iCloud or DropBox, and printed somewhere safe.

Why? Remember that lack of electricity thing? We may all be digital, but in times of crisis where speed is of the essence, you'll appreciate the backup to your backup plan.

Oh, there go the lights. I can see the power go back on from my iPhone Nest—yet another app we added after Ike. Now I need to go home and reset the clocks on the microwave, oven, and coffeemaker.

It’s not a crisis. It’s a reset. It's a lesson.

Dayna Steele is a speaker, author, and success strategist. She’s the creator of and can be found on Twitter at @daynasteele.