When the subject of business continuity comes up, there’s a natural tendency to think of events that have an immediate impact. IT server crashes, flash floods, fires and hacker attacks are just some of the examples. While these sudden events can certainly put business continuity planning and management to the test, they are not the only factors that can affect operations. There are many other forces at work whose end-effects can be just as powerful. Looking at what happens in nature can indicate good models to consider in a business environment too.

For example, take the ‘ecological threshold’. This is a phenomenon in which an ecosystem changes due to a relatively small change, but in a way that may make it impossible for the ecosystem to return to its former state. This might be additional pollution in an already polluted lake, or the introduction of a new species of animal that alters the established order and food chain. In a business context, the equivalent is often referred to as a tipping point, where for example a new problem with customer service makes already exasperated clients take their business elsewhere (‘the last straw that breaks the camel’s back’).

Even if a business can persuade such clients to recommence doing business with it, things are unlikely to be the same as before. This ‘hysteresis’, where the path back from disaster is different to the path that led up to it, is also well known in nature. Earthquakes and volcanoes for example can drastically alter landscapes. Plants grow again afterwards, dwellings are rebuilt, but the land surface is altered forever. This however is not necessarily a bad thing (notwithstanding the disruption and danger of the event itself). Enterprises too may find that a ‘business earthquake’ is the opportunity to change things for the better. Good business continuity planning will also allow organisations to be better prepared beforehand, rather than having to scramble to react afterwards.