Crucial Skills®

A Blog by Crucial Learning


What Have You Learned from Your Crucial Events?

In 1998, my colleagues and I, swept up in the excitement and uncertainty of the dot-com boom, sold our small company to a firm that was madly acquiring training companies with interesting intellectual property. Within two years, the rocket ship we boarded crashed into reality. Suddenly a decade of my life’s work was locked up in a complex bankruptcy. I felt paralyzed and disoriented. For months I was unable to earn money to support my young family, and I suspected everything I had worked for was gone forever. That bankruptcy was a crucial event.

Thirteen years later, I was struck with another. I was standing in a TSA security line in 2011 when I felt the sudden cumulative weight of three independent disasters. Two of my sons were incarcerated, my wife wasn’t sure she wanted to stay married to me, and a New York Times news article had just accused a nonprofit I chaired of impropriety. I felt like three legs of the table holding my up life had disappeared. I broke down and cried.

These are just a couple of personal experiences that have fueled my interest in researching crucial events.

My colleague in this research, Brian Wansink, was Godzilla-stomped by a crucial event seven years ago when he was accused of academic misconduct. For 30 years he worked as a bestselling author, professor, and USDA Executive Director, then he experienced total humiliation. He was shamed into nearly paralyzing numbness, and he was forced to resign from his dream calling as a Professor at Cornell and to disband his Food and Brand Lab.

Thirty-three years ago, my partners and I began to research crucial moments. We wondered if there were key moments in our careers and personal lives that disproportionately affect the outcomes we care about most. We also wondered if there were better ways to deal with these moments. Those studies led us to the insights contained in Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, and Crucial Influence.

I’ve recently felt a need to learn more about crucial events—times in our lives when we are hit with crushing surprises. The rude shock could come in the form of a public failure, job loss, natural disaster, divorce, illness, bankruptcy, betrayal, addiction or myriad other calamities. In our initial research, I was surprised to learn that we tend to experience a couple of these crises every decade of our lives. This means that during adulthood we are likely to face as many as a dozen crucial events. We’ve also found that the stakes for how we deal with these episodes could not be higher: study participants report that the worst consequences can last far beyond the pain of the initial event—sometimes for the rest of our lives.

But does it have to be that way? I invite you to join me in a study to help us answer this crucial question. Our small, initial study suggests that people dealing with crucial events experience widely different intensity and duration of negative consequences. We need to know why. We believe that answering this question could be of great value to all of us.

If this question seems important to you, and if you’d be willing to share some of your life experience—both good and bad—I welcome you to participate in the survey below. As you’d expect, the questions prompt you to explore some emotionally difficult moments. If that is too uncomfortable for you, I encourage you not to participate. I’ll also note that you need not have triumphed over the crucial event to participate. In fact, we can’t learn if we don’t hear about some consequences that have lingered painfully and some that have remarkably healed. Please make the choice that’s best for you. And, if you get started and change your mind, you can always exit the survey.

Since the study is exploring a profound question, we have broken it into two parts. We are asking you to complete just one of the two parts. One part will ask you questions about crucial events you’ve experienced, and it mainly involves checking boxes and provide short answers. It should take about 15 minutes to complete. The other part asks you to share details about your most traumatic crucial event. It is called a Story Collector, and we will ask 12 guiding questions about your crucial event, like how it affected you, what advice you would give others in a similar situation, and so forth. It could take 15-30 minutes depending on how much detail you provide.


Whether you choose to engage or not, I look forward to sharing anything we learn that could be of value to both you and me. It appears that no one makes it through life without a crisis. My hope is that this effort allows us to share our collective wisdom in a way that accelerates healing for many.

Joseph Grenny

2 thoughts on “What Have You Learned from Your Crucial Events?”

  1. Michael Hans, RN

    Your story is something that I have never heard about before. I am saddened to hear that this happened to you, and I hope things have worked our for the better.

    1. Joseph Grenny

      Thank you, Michael. I appreciate your care. We are well today, grateful for a time of peace, and accepting of the uncertainty of the future. I hope all is well with you, too.

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