Joe Tuson

Joe Tuson

Engineering consultant

© 2020

'Peacetime' and 'Wartime'

I’ve heard “peacetime” and “wartime” language over the last weeks — contrasting how we should lead, how companies should strategize and what spirit we should adopt as a government during this pandemic.

I understand the connotation and analogy for CEO’s, but it wasn’t until I was asked to help with some communication that used this language that I appreciated some of the pitfalls of the analogy.

The analogy can be useful:

It communicates “things are different”. There is stark contrast between “now” and “then”. This forces rethinking how you operate now.

It communicates urgency and focus. In a crisis, you need to move quickly. People are anxious and resistant to change. Wartime leadership demands crystal clear focus on the mission. The analogy is stirring.

It offers shared language. “That idea works great in peacetime, but not now” or “She is a wartime leader”.

However, the analogy can be unhelpful:

Unclear, triumphalist mental models. “We are brilliant, strategic commanders”. When the analogy is overcooked, you can misstep.

Implies a passing season. For some, use of the phrase has implied that “things will get back to normal”, which may be stopping them making the big moves necessary to survive or grow.