Introduced in the 1970s, it was a term coined by divers, but the idea has applications across many different environments, including business and business management.
So, what is the incident pit? Well, it’s a hypothetical pit, in which the further down you go, the steeper the walls become. In a climbing context, it becomes apparent that the further you climb down this hypothetical pit, the harder it becomes to climb out.
This was used, originally, in diving circles. Underwater diving is an environment in which there is a reasonably high risk of very minor incidents occurring. These minor incidents are usually nothing to worry about – if they were, the risks associated with diving would be far higher. However, if a couple of minor incidents occur concurrently, this can quickly turn into an emergency. Once it becomes an emergency, the walls of the pit are getting steeper, and fear or panic can set in. From here, the diver is very quickly involved in a serious incident, after which, death become a distinct probability.
In this example, over a short period of time, a very minor incident has spiralled out of control and become incredibly serious. And once you get down to the second layer of the pit – the “emergency” stage – you have little time to recover before it gets even worse.
Divers, therefore, must never let the situation develop beyond the top layer of normal activity. If at any point they feel themselves being drawn towards the second stage, maybe because a couple of things have gone wrong at the same time, they must quickly use their training to extract themselves from the pit. If they do not, they will find themselves in a situation that is rapidly unravelling.
This thought process is especially useful in a business management sense. There are always little things going wrong and when you stay on top of them, you have nothing to worry about. But a couple of minor incidents could draw you into the second stage of the pit, and from there, it is going to take more time and resources to solve the problem. This trend continues the further down you go, to the point where it is incredibly difficult, expensive and time-consuming to fix the most serious issues. And the example illustrates that even if the incidents themselves are minor, they can rapidly degenerate and become very serious.
The trick is to stay on top of it. Deal with the minor issues quickly, as, and when they arise, and do not panic. This way, you never find yourself drawn into a situation where you are going deeper into the pit. If you feel yourself being drawn deeper, use all your training, skills, and experience to extricate yourself and your colleagues from the situation as quickly as possible.