What Is “Business as Usual” After September 11?

by James Heskett

Summing Up

According to the immediate and numerous responses to questions raised concerning the impact of the tragic events of September 11 on "business as usual," the consensus is that our lives have been changed, whether at a global, national, organizational, or personal level.

Global and national changes will be immediate regardless of the wide range of possible responses to the terrorist attacks suggested by respondents. Examples from other countries were cited to point out future perils and possible responses. E. Jordan, citing an example from his country, noted that "In as much as it affects business, I believe what could occur here is what happened in Peru during the bloody terrorist war... a profound economic, moral, and political crisis." Gil Robinson and Pankaj Dubey suggested productive long-term responses. According to Robinson, " ... living under pressure similar to Israel's will not present the growth environment this country has fostered... The only hope of getting past this type of incredible evil is by inclusion... We must find a way—after we exact our revenge, I guess—to get to the root of this hate." Dubey presented a related thought: "Safety precautions, etc. are reactive approaches. The proactive approach will be to involve under-privileged peoples in constructive work, (help them) improve their standard of living, and instill in them a feeling of security."

Changes in organizations, according to respondents, will be subtle, but real.
—Professor James Hesket

Changes in organizations, according to respondents, will be subtle, but real. Perhaps the most interesting opinions on this topic were set forth by Niklas Arvidsson: "What will be the effect of (fewer face-to-face meetings and less travel)? In the short run, increased efficiency due to reduced costs. In the long run, increased international segregation—even between western countries—and a reduced global learning rate due to a lesser degree of physical interaction... I believe the global business world will lose its current effectiveness in knowledge exchange... This is a huge setback for the global economy."

At the personal level one respondent commented that perceptions rather than reality have changed: "The reality is that we were always at risk and were either ignorant or chose to ignore it." Eleanor Latimer expanded on this when she said "To be blunt, I am concerned about security in a way I have not been since the '70s. And I am prepared to put up with greater inconvenience and higher taxes (note taxes, not prices) to have more peace of mind. Security is primary a governmental obligation—not a commercial one."

One of the more personal and thought-provoking responses was that Rebecca Lula, who noted that "following the tragic events last week ... I ... wondered why I spent the past few years in a mad dash for something that I can now not name... I will have a much better grasp of what is worth having and what isn't."

What do you think?

Original Article

Looking over one of my favorite weekly business magazines published a couple days before the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., I am struck by how dated (and relatively insignificant) all of the articles were. If written today, nearly all might have included some reference to the awful watershed events of that day, because those events may have implications for every business story. But what are the implications of the attack?

We are already reading, of course, the most obvious stories of how the airline and insurance industries, to name two, will be affected. And of how the Internet performed so dependably in spite of almost unimaginable demand.

But what about more basic issues? Must we increasingly choose between our freedom and our security? If so, what's the price (and cost) of this choice?

At a personal level, for example, all of us have several trips, both business and personal, already scheduled. Some are more important than others. Do we take all of them? If not, how will it affect the way we relate to our business colleagues and loved ones? If we don't take them, are we acknowledging a victory for terrorism over freedom?

Perhaps more relevant for this column, at a commercial level, what are the implications of a possible loss of certain freedoms, its impact on free enterprise, and its effect on global enterprise? How great are the security costs—at global, national, organizational, and personal levels—needed to achieve the "peace of mind" with which we did business on September 10? How will they and other changes affect business and consumer costs and, at a more basic level, the global economy? And what can we learn from those who have been doing business and succeeding in global competition under the threat of terrorist attacks for years? What do you think?

    • Gil Robinson
    • Operations Analyst, Bank of America

    While we engage in retribution plans and ponder how well we can "insulate ourselves" against terrorism, let us all remember that living under pressure similar to Israel's will not present the growth environment this country has fostered. We talk of ways to "check everybody." How long, forever? I think not. We have so many brilliant minds focused on wealth accumulation, as long as we pay little attention to those who view us through cracks in the blinds, destroying the latest villain will only buy us temporary respite. The only hope of getting past this type of incredible evil is by inclusion. If we forget that, I am afraid we will be reminded again. It is becoming increasingly clear that this may be an extension of an age-old struggle between two prominent religions. In a word: ancient. We must find a way—after we exact our revenge, I guess—to get to the root of this hate. If the Professor knows of a way to intervene in that foreign affair that has come home, then we can expect this behavior to subside. Without addressing that, what is to stop it from spilling across the planet again?

    • Rebecca Lula
    • Partner, Collaborative Software

    In the nights following the tragic events last week, I noticed a certain eerie calm, a quiet reflective time. The weekend was in many ways less stressful, the sky quiet, and the demands lower. In this calm, I lay in bed and wondered why I spent the past few years in a mad dash for something that I can now not name but which I thought could be caught with one more meeting, one more plane flight, one less conversation with my son or one less evening helping him with his homework, one less dinner with my husband. I don't know what the future holds for me, my family or my business, except for one thing. I will have a much better grasp of what is worth having and what isn't.

    • Jerry Luther
    • Research Analyst, MultiLingual Computing & Technology

    This morning I have already started to define "Business as Usual" in my professional work as a research analyst. I am separating those on-line sources of information into two groups. There are those who can—and have—responded to the crises and changed political/commercial landscape by reworking the face of their sites and the composition of its content to reflect a preparedness and ability to respond, and those who are unable, unwilling, or unconscious to the need to do so. My trust and the credibility of those firms will depend greatly on this evaluation.

    • Anonymous

    Security is really an issue of perception versus reality. Our perception of security on the 11th barely registers on the same scale as our perception on the 10th. The reality is that we were always at risk and were either ignorant or chose to ignore it.

    The impact on productivity in the short term will almost certainly be meaningful to the economy—simply look at how much time each of us is putting into monitoring developments, let alone taking time to remember those who have died.

    The airlines are effectively bankrupt and the insurance companies, even with risk sharing, will incur huge claims. Government spending will increase significantly, so say good-bye to any thought of a balanced budget.

    The long-term impacts are simply too complex to assess and are directly dependent on events that unfold militarily over the next weeks and months. This is one reader that is hoping for a strategic counter-terrorist style response—with global partners—versus putting a million people in harms way to satisfy some politicians who need a political victory. If we have any hope of restoring a sense of security, the only truly effective response is the former. Only time will tell.

    • John Strothman
    • President, Strothman/Associates, Inc.

    I have a management consulting practice. I have worked with one client in New Mexico h for eight years and most of the work is tied to surety science and engineering. Surety engineering balances trade-offs of a systems' safety, reliability, and security during normal, abnormal, and malevolent experiences.

    As we become global and if we listen to those that have high value or high consequence experiences (Sandia, Ford, many others) in a global marketplace, it seems naive to not understand that security becomes a resource allocation trade-off. Terrorism is very different from security but we've taken security for granted far too long.

    We can use a financial market metric that adds some value to companies that demonstrate that they take security seriously and that there is a form of higher confidence in that earnings stream because of such confidence in practicing a degree of measurable security seriousness. Is the market ready for this yet? Probably not, but some workshops would help explore ideas. Possibly, surety engineering is one process to consider.

    • Anonymous

    It strikes me as interesting the differences in perceptions many people have of what freedom means. It seems to me that most of what I have heard so far is the lamentation of a loss of "entitlements" more so than freedom. People complain of losing the "right" to park closely to the building, to carry luggage onto the plane, to not have to wait in long lines, etc.

    None of these represent freedom. You can get those things in an aristocracy just as easily as you can a democracy.

    The only things our original constitution entitled us to are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Add to that the Bill of Rights and other assorted amendments, which don't so much add rights as to clarify what "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" means.

    My family and I traveled to France this past summer. I was told to expect a different environment within their airports, tighter security, less trust. Beside the obvious language differences, it amazed me how much their airports looked like our airports. The most notable difference was the security men and women with machine guns on their shoulders. But they were there to help secure my security within the airport and in no way impinged on my freedom. Yet, this is what many are saying is one of the terrible "costs" we may have to endure. So be it.

    I was never promised a life free from reminders that our society is not perfect or that others do not like our society. If anything, I feel I'm promised more that I should receive daily reminders. We may put armed security in our malls? Great. There are many malls that have needed an armed presence for a long time. We may nationalize some of our police force? Great. There are many a beleaguered city that could use the help, and isn't that a service our National Guard can provide?

    Freedom is not easy. You've got to want it. You've got to fight for it. I would ask those who are lamenting our supposed loss of freedom how willing are they to fight to gain back those lost freedoms. If they're not willing to fight for them, then those freedoms were just entitlements.

    • Jim Callaway
    • Director, First Base Ventures LLC

    America, and eventually all technology-market-based economies, are soon to be at war.

    The opponents in this conflict are the cultures on this planet that perceive democratic or state based capitalism as contaminating the theocratic relationships of a society's people with its leadership elite.

    The previous "COLD WAR" was about the economic freedoms among certain peoples and their culture's ruling elite; this "GOD WAR" will be about theocratic freedoms.

    Unfortunately for our opponents, the economic power and display of materialistic wealth that has accrued in this and our ally's countries over the last 100 years has now reached such a magnitude of media globalization that some religious based cultures can not effectively compete and regenerate themselves if they allow their citizens to be exposed to our perceived society.

    Mainstream American culture, as presented by the media, subsumes their theocratic caste based cultures.

    The elite of our opponents have convinced and recruited martyrs based on a representation that America is the evil incarnate and must be destroyed.

    We must respect that these cultures' theocratic elite's very existence and relevancy is at stake here; they sanctify the strategy through their God's words because they sense, rightly or wrongly, their extinction


    I am unsure if I am correct from an ecclesiastical Judeo-Christian viewpoint, but I believe that the predominant perception by our people is that "God" and or Jesus Christ are OK with democratic rights, private property, constitutional law, media, and profit.

    I apologize if this sounds crass.

    We now know that our opponents believe enough in their God to have started this war. What remains to be seen is if America believes enough in our God to fight back.

    Our God versus their God—our way of life depends on who wins this war.

    • Veronica Serra
    • Partner, Vex Capital

    Your questions are very appropriate for the circumstances, as clearly people will need to make choices and take chances. I wanted to share my thoughts on the personal implications of the recent events. The reality is that people will need to improve their security (personal and corporate) and at the same time strongly and persistently fight against terrorism in a manner in which they believe they can most contribute. In a country like Brazil, where there is a large social gap among classes, living the day-to-day does impose certain restrictions if you want to feel safe. I have electrical fences and alarms at home, six cameras and armed security guards twenty-four hours a day. I also have recently bulletproofed my car as I had a gun pointed to my head when a robber asked for my wristwatch. All of this sounds pretty limiting in terms of freedom. But it's amazing how I got used to it and feel comfortable and fortunate to be able to have such security—something I learned to live with and know very few can afford. This doesn't mean that I don't contribute socially and hope to make things change. But any change on this front is long and demands patience, while we see slow improvements coming along when things are tackled on its roots. Similarly to the terrorists, the violent enemy is not clear and defined. There is a lot in the hands of the government on how to deal with social disparity given certain policies in health, education, and basic services—regardless of the private effort we carry out as citizens. No superficial change is enough, as the results are not long lasting. In the U.S., I also believe a lot will be in the hands of the government; how it responds, what message it sends across and what security measures are put in place, how it leads the county. In the end, I believe the country's leaders are there to represent the people in a thoughtful manner, trying to isolate and resolve such terrible things that take away the valued freedom. Any such representation that becomes radical, as seen with terrorists, will generate ugly results. I strongly believe that the U.S. must use more intelligence force than military force to control and put an end to such types of attacks, at the base of their roots and for the big media to check results. The terrorism was not the act of only one person, but a large, spread-out group of believers that must lose their cause or be controlled and detained by all governments.

    • E. Jordan
    • Peru

    Lo que ha ocurrido en New York y Washington ha sido una desgracia terrible. Para muchos espectadores de ese episodio apocalíptico, les pareció que se iniciaba el fin del mundo. Desde aquí, Lima, Perú, hago llegar mis condilencias más sentidas a los familiares, amigos y compatriotas de quienes fallecieron en tan horrendo crimen. A nosotros nos sorprendió la relativa inseguridad de un país en el que era prácticamente imposible un ataque terrorista de esa magnitud. En cuanto a su efecto sobre los negocios, creo que podría ocurrir lo que sucedió en el Perú durante la sangrienta guerra terrorista animada por Sendero Luminoso y el MRTA. Entre 1980 y 1995, el país se sumió en una profunda crisis económica, moral y política; aproximadamente murieron 25,000 personas, muchos empresarios se fueron del país para iniciar una vida nueva en otros lugares. Sin embargo, otros se quedaron, continuaron realizando negocios y, mal que bien, prosperaron. Evidentemente, los riesgos fueron más altos. Muchísimos fueron extorsionados, secuestrados y asesinados. Hoy día, resuelto gran parte de ese problema, el Perú continua trabajando, junto con sus empresarios.

    Creo, también, que, como lo demostró la captura del sanguinario líder de Sendero Luminoso, la seguridad basada sobre la inteligencia (búsqueda de datos e información permanente sobre "todo y todos"), es fundamental, aunque digan que sus procedimientos atentan contra la libertad y la privacidad de los ciudadanos. Peores son los sangrientos ataques que sufrimos los peruanos durante tantos años o el holocausto del fatídico martes pasado.


    What occurred in New York and Washington has been a terrible disgrace. For many spectators of this apocalyptic episode, it to them seemed like the beginning of the end of the world. From here, Lima, Peru, I send my heart-felt condolences to the families, friends, and compatriots upon whom has been leveled such a horrendous crime. We were surprised by the relative insecurity of a country that was practically impermeable to a terrorist attack of this magnitude. In as much as it effects business, I believe what could occur here is what happened in Peru during the bloody terrorist war carried out by the Sendero Lumnioso (Shining Path) and the MRTA. Between 1980 and 1995, the country was in a profound economic, moral and political crisis. About 25,000 people died; many entrepreneurs left the country to start new lives in other places. Without a doubt, others remained, continuing business, and for better or worse, prospered. Evidently, the risks were greater. A great many were [extorsionados], imprisoned, and assassinated. Today, resulting in great part from this problem, Peru continues working together with their entrepreneurs.

    I believe, also, as demonstrated by the capture of the bloodthirsty leader of the Sendero Luminoso, security-based intelligence (search for facts and permanent information above all else) is fundamental, although some say that such proceedings go against the liberty and privacy of the citizens. Worse are the bloody attacks on Peru for so many years, and the holocaust of this past Tuesday.

    • Eleanor Latimer
    • VP Strategy and Marketing, MedBiquitous Services

    I work for a global start-up in the healthcare field, creating and managing global online communities for professional medical societies. I travel each week between Dallas and Baltimore. To be blunt, I am concerned about security in a way I have not been since the '70s. And I am prepared to put up with greater inconvenience and higher taxes (note taxes, not prices) to have more peace of mind. Security is primarily a governmental obligation—not a commercial one.

    Unfortunately, these terrorists are much more sophisticated that those who hijacked planes in the '70s and have a much more globally destructive objective. They will be back again striking in another manner, also destructive, and that is very unsettling. I suspect we will find ourselves changing our business, social, and travel patterns significantly during the next several years, e.g. avoiding gatherings of large crowds such as sporting events, thinking more than once on whether or not that trip is really necessary, or telecommuting much more. The changes will be subtle, but real. I also believe people will start to question the background of strangers more, becoming more suspicious of those they do not know and relying on affiliation groups, like HBS, to source co-workers.
    All bad? Not necessarily. Difficult to handle today? Yes.

    • Niklas Arvidsson, Ph.D.
    • SMG Sweden

    Thank you for raising an important and urgent issue. As always, the future is unpredictable. Still, I will try. One of the absolutely most important issues for the development of mankind and the world economy is how we interact with other civilized human beings.

    Can we trust each other or not? On the one hand, most of the world is more united than ever, which tends to increase the degree of global "trust." On the other hand, global traveling and international face-to-face meetings will definitely decrease. Internet and other virtual media are likely to replace physical meetings at an increasing rate.

    What will be the effect of this? In the short run, increased efficiency due to reduced costs. In the long run, increased international segregation—even between western countries—and a reduced global learning rate due to a lesser degree of physical interaction. Thus, the globalization process will be halted. Global learning processes will be severely hindered. I believe the global business world will lose its current effectiveness in knowledge exchange, which is a result of the last twenty years of increased global trust. This is a huge setback for the global economy.

    • Monish R Gangwani
    • Director, MAYA - Solutions in Corporate Communication

    "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

    And anyone who looks at situations from this perspective is branded as a survivor and as someone strong. Certainly the magnitude of the seriousness of the situation matters. Certain situations leave a deep impact on the rest of our lives. But when we stand up against all odds and tell those who want to shut us down "Hey, you know what, we're still here," it reflects an attitude. It is to say, "You may have the resources to destroy aspects of our lives, but you cannot even touch our spirit. We are a nation that has stood up and will stand up, come what may."

    Life will never be the same again. But the impact of surviving such a major catastrophe, and loosing so many loved ones, is what will and should profoundly unite the people of the world into a commitment towards combating the evil.

    The 11th September event has perhaps only worsened things for the ongoing global recession. And what will perhaps follow is a counterattack against global terrorism. And economically, things may get worse. But how long will that be for? People will have to make a choice. There is a trade-off: terrorism or short-term economic crisis?

    And the choice is not a very difficult one.

    And great nations survive. They always have. A developing economy like India has shown immense promise by surviving so many catastrophes of different nature like the Gujarat earthquake, the Latur earthquake, the communal bombings in 1993, and of course the Kargil war. Somewhere along the road they leveraged their resources to optimally combat the unavoidable crisis.

    America sure has a couple of miles to walk and there is a lot at stake. But life will find a way to balance out those missing elements.

    • Anonymous

    I think that September 11 has put some reality back in our outlook. We are vulnerable. People hate us for serving the god of commerce and capitalism.

    We live in denial that a single individual can decimate a large number of people. We experienced it in Oklahoma City, but still lived in denial that there is (the possibility of) danger from others each day.

    We expect our government to eradicate these types of events. They can, in reality, only control it. We must accept this and live each day with some honor.

    We put up with rudeness, lies in the name of commerce, and ruthlessness in our business lives each day. We have gotten insensitive to the fact that the guy on the other side might not like what he is being served emotionally, and decide to take action.

    We cannot be both the loving older brother and the neighborhood bully at the same time.

    My reflection is to renew my commitment to treat others well each and every day: suppliers, customers, peers, cleaning staff. We need to inject our basic human selves back into the commercial world. We have learned to feel for others again, and it's about time that our businesses did as well.

    • Pankaj Dubey
    • Business Analyst, Cognizant Technology Solutions

    Conceptually terrorism covers all acts of violence be it religious fundamentalism, racial discrimination, ethnic clashes, or even communism inspired armed revolutionaries. The fight is not against religion; it is against beliefs that these people nurture right from their birth. We must understand that wealth creation begets responsibility to distribute wealth. The theory of free markets emphasizes competition as the balancing factor, which is currently missing in world scenario with the U.S. as the only super power. Prevention is better than cure. Safety precautions, etc. are reactive approaches. The proactive approach will be to involve under-privileged peoples in constructive work, improve their standard of living, and instill in them a feeling of security. The U.S. has always been the flag bearer of freedom and attracted talent from all over the world only because it was considered a safe, free, rich, and forward-looking society. Any step taken today right or wrong will have long term implications on business in the future.

    • Anonymous

    On the organizational level, it should be noticed that employees, as managers, might not have the basic feeling of security at working place. Having Maslau in mind, we must remember that a sense of security is very important in motivating all workers.

    An important mission is to show the entire organization, that "work" is, in a way, an extended part of "home." And the secure feeling we believe to have at home should be taken with us into the organization. The implication of that is trying to shift the organization to be more family oriented. That is, knowing that when performance at work is not 100% we must tolerate it, as we do in families. Because, though business continues as usual, business is NOT as usual—we must acknowledge that fact.

    • Devdip Ganguli
    • Student, Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (Pondicherry, India)

    Something is not quite right. The economic mantras of yesterday seem to provide little relief for the grief of the moment. Suddenly words like "globalization" and "capitalization," once all-important topics, fade away in to the distance. We were so lost in stock quotes, that somewhere down the path of life we forgot to take stock of our own lives and its priceless value.

    The impacts of Terrible Tuesday encompass economic, social and political domains. We are now at a turning point. At a time when every minute is making history; our leaders need to call upon their intuitive judgement, to go beyond mere immediate cause and effect, and make long-term decisions that will undoubtedly determine the course of things to come. We are reminded of the fact that the future can never be determined with great certainty. The minutes of meetings held on the 10th of September in major boardrooms around the world now gather dust. Their irrelevance proves the ironic fact that in immersing ourselves in our little world of profits and losses, and buying and selling, we lost sight of the deeper human being in us, of the value of peace, freedom and happiness, things money and materialism alone couldn't get us. We are being forced to remember that there has to be some meaning to life, something more than the next business trip, the next business meeting, the next marketing plan and the next business strategy.

    In view of all this, I would recommend two important things to Mr. CEO.

    1) Open dynamically to change. The key for any major organization to survive the expected downturn in the economy will be to be on its guard to change. The events now unfolding will determine to a great extent how the economy is affected. Keep abreast with developments and rely on experience and intuition to steer your ship through the storm. Don't hold on to old strategies just because you thought they were good. Follow the compass of circumstance carefully—change course and adapt—or perish.

    2) Expand horizons. I don't mean markets, but your own perception. Take time off; think what business really means to you. Is it just a means of making your living? What purpose can money serve in providing peace and happiness? How can you be socially responsible in this regard? Why hasn't the increase in the flow of capital around the world led to greater collective global peace and prosperity? You, as a business leader, have a great responsibility. You have the ability to effect change, not only in your organization, but in society too. In the words of Kim B. Clark, Dean of the Faculty at HBS, "The core of what we do is in business, but the impact of what we do is in society." If you still believe that your sphere of influence is important primarily to you, you have not yet learned the lesson.

    The task at hand now is finding that purpose, that deeper reason to put in countless hours and effort in conducting business. Perhaps it's already out there and we have but to seek it consciously. Perhaps we already know the answer though we need to open our eyes and look within. Buying and selling will and have to take on altogether different meanings. Then the world will be a better place to live in. Let's hope we don't need another WTC to learn all of this.

    • Arvind Kalia
    • Assistant Professor, Podar Institute of management, Jaipur (India)

    In India, we have seen such an environment for the past two decades, when many buildings (not as big as twin towers of the U.S.) were either burnt or exploded by terrorists. We have literally experienced the dwindling balance between freedom and security. In whatever states (of India), we faced the security problem, we found that economic development is not up to expectation. Moreover, people are in a constant state of tension, thereby reducing their personal happiness and creativity. But what we realized is that these are temporary phases (maybe encompassing a few years), as the terrorists are not on firm ground. But during the phase, one should take all possible measures to diminish the threat, otherwise it becomes counter productive. Remember, business and new investments flourish only in a secure environment.

    • Maurice Barakat
    • CEO, TCP INC.

    I have been very impressed by the complexity of the responses expressed by people whom I know and people I hear on the radio. I have also been impressed by the ability of the media to channel the experience of this huge horrible event into a series of very moving and empowering personal stories that anybody from any background can relate to. What I am leading to is that Americans will come out of this event with a different view of themselves. I believe we will become confident that our ability to be very diverse, individualistic people is what makes us strong. I also think that we will have a healthier appreciation of risk. I do not know how these characteristics translate in business terms but I think it will make each one of us wiser leaders and team players.