Crisis Duration: How Long to Expect the Unexpected

“The Answer to the Great Question… Of Life, the Universe and Everything… Is… Forty-two,’ said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


5 weeks!

Yes, I know that this answer is a little bit strange.

It is a bit like 42 in the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

[Note: Love this book.]

I’ll explain, in a bit, how I came up with that.

I thought about that question after reading updates on the disappearance of MH370.

[Note: My prayers to the passengers and their families.]

I asked myself how long the hype is going to last and how long people will be interested by this subject?

Then I thought to myself …

Is there a general pattern that systematically occurs in such kind of events?


What is really amazing those days, is that it is so easy to get access to datawithout even leaving your couch. You have plenty of choices available and download is done in a couple of clicks.

I rushed to Google Trends and started to look for some search trends on the:

And then, I just tried to look for:

[Note: I got a text message on my iPhone while I was writing this post and I thought … what the heck … let’s try iPhone … The human mind works in mysterious ways …]

And what I found was quite disturbing, interesting, puzzling … but kind ofmade sense (at least I think so).


Yes we are extremely superficial!

[Note: Hard reality of life.]

And you will see that our interest falls quite quickly.

Here’s the graph (of those data):

As you can see in the previous graph, events separated in time and ofvarious different kind, seem to interest the majority of us for no more than 5 weeks (the curves have been normalised and the average fits nicely).

[Note: I am sure that some of you will find a correlation between the iPhone and the War in Libya … beware … correlations are often misleading and “correlation does not imply causation” … I like to repeat this one, but only a lucky few get it.]

After 3 weeks only,

our interest or concern drops 50%.

After 5 weeks, it drops 75%.

The tails of the distribution stays relatively stable after 5 weeks.

I guess it is made of the slow movers and late trend catchers.

[Note: For those not faint-hearted, I added a mathematical addendum in which
l model and fit the latest trends on Malaysia Airlines.]


So what can we learn from that?

Basically, if something happens, after 5 weeks,  hum … nobody cares.

Nah … I know that one was kind of easy …

But that’s not really the gist and the conclusion of this story!

What is important, in any crisis, is to pay an extreme attention to the communication in the first 3 weeks:

The attention (public) is the biggest in this period.

[Note: Heard about a crisis cell?]

It is usually (and traditionally) during those first 3 weeks that most organisation struggle to come up with a proper plan, methodology andbasically screw up everything … confusion reigns.

[Note: As much as I praise what has been done by the Malaysian government, the lack of experience and organisation was obvious and is a good illustration of those 3 weeks.]

It is also usually during those 3 weeks that you either make it or break it!

I went in my life through several crisis triggered by events similar to the ones I mentioned (especially when I used to work for the electronics industry).

I can say with confidence that they are extremely difficult to manage, that reactivity is extremely important, but at the same time that it is essential totake enough time to come up with a clear plan before rushing into action.

And that is not a given my friends …

Keeping it cool under such circumstances needs some nerves!

But benefits are high.

Just imagine …

What would you do if suddenly 75% of your Japanese suppliers have been turned into rubble piles by a major earthquake followed by a tsunami?

In one single day!

Your inventories are limited.

And guess what … you need three month to find alternate sources …


But as you soon realize … a unique learning experience!

[Note: Especially to stay on the 66th floor of a hotel in Tokyo during a 7.8 quake watching the other neighboring buildings undulate like chewing gum.]


Luckily, in this process, after 5 weeks, the huge amount of resources you spent handling communication can be, for most of it, redirected to more productive tasks and it becomes easier to take care and manage the real crisis issues.

So the moral of this story?

If something happens:

Hope you like this post.

Don’t forget to share if you did.


For those a bit more interested in the mathematical side of it, the previous examples fit extremely well to a Power law.

It is a law in the form of:

In this case x, will represent the days elapsed since the beginning of the crisis.

This law can be applied to a very broad range of phenomenons.

In our specific case, I extracted the trends for the last 90 days on “Malaysia Airlines” and did a very simple fit on the aforementioned law.

Here is the graph:

[Note: Updated April 23rd.]

As you can see, it fits amazingly well.

The actual data shows a couple of peaks which quite quickly resume to the general trend.The most amazing, is that k ended up being -0.66 (or 2/3)..

My prediction (using the power law) is that in 100 days, less than 10% of the original interest (or traffic) will remain on this issue.

[Note: Just checked the recent trend … and it sticks well to the curve.]

It is sad … But so it goes …

Originally Posted on Quora by: Yannick Feder

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