Five Simple Lessons for Business to Learn From the Titanic

Titanic memorial

1522 People Perished because of three bad decisions

Have you seen the movie, Titanic?  If so you already know the story of the ship they called “Unsinkable.” However, did you know that there were five bad decisions  that resulted in the demise of over 1500 people? If the crew had made even just one of them differently, it may have saved the lives of all who perished.  What can be learned by leaders in business today, who are trying to navigate their own murky waters of economic climate changes, consumers’ hesitation to spend and overburdened tired workforces? Plenty it seems…and it doesn’t take  much effort to avoid the same deadly mistakes.   

 Fatal Error #1 The overriding mistake made by the designers of the Titanic was that of pride and arrogance. They were sure it wouldn’t, no…it couldn’t sink…It was a magnificent work of engineering art! It was brilliance on the water! It was a floating money-maker. It was about to sink and take with it fifteen hundred and twenty-two precious lives.   

 As a management consultant, I am always delighted to find and talk to leaders with tremendous humility. There seems to be a direct correlation between a leader’s lack of ego and the long-term stability and success of an organization. One of my favorite examples would be the late Coach John Wooden. During the off-seasons, he would teach workshops to young coaches at conferences. It always surprised the other younger speakers to see him in their workshops furiously taking notes and learning as much as possible. His own success never deterred him from the desire to learn and improve.    

Challenge Question #1- Would your co-workers describe you as a humble leader open to different perspectives?    

Binoculars    

  • Fatal Error #2 Missing Binoculars meant they could not see what was ahead One of the first ways that arrogance was manifested was in a pair of binoculars being locked in a cabinet.  The prevailing thought was that binoculars wouldn’t be necessary! Binoculars would have helped the Captain or his crew see farther than the naked eye. They would have seen masses of icebergs and avoided collision. But how necessary is being able to “see” any more clearly when you have an unsinkable ship? Right, BP or Wall Street or Congress? 

Challenge Question #2-When do the leaders in your organization have the opportunity to look ahead and give consideration to potential icebergs in your path?    

Short rope...no temperature readings

Fatal Error #3 A SHORT ROPE   In those days, ships kept watch over the temperatures of the water by tying a thermometer to then end of a rope and dragging it in the water. A dramatic drop in temperature would alert the crew that there were potential icebergs ahead. Because the Titanic was larger than other ships, the rope attached was of a standard length. This meant that the thermometer on the end could not reach the water. A longer rope would have enabled the crew to realize that their climate temperature had dropped from 43 degrees Fahrenheit to a mere 28 degrees.  The Captain would have found out much sooner that the ship was about to encounter icebergs.   

Business leaders can become so inundated with daily pressures that they overlook taking the temperature of their own surrounding climate. I knew a man who operated a kitchen countertop manufacturing company who assumed that the nation’s economic woes were the only reason for his own business seeing a decline in sales. It was later revealed that several potential clients had attempted to do business with him; however, his son who was running the showroom, was playing games and viewing pornography on his computer and ignoring customers.  This business owner had refused to take the temperature of his industry climate. It may have forced him to consider other key performance indicators affecting his business. He eventually filed for bankruptcy and sent a flood of clients to his competitor.   

    Challenge Question #3-Do you make assumptions about your industry’s climate based on news forecasts that are often generalized about the overall economy?  What potential opportunities have you missed in accepting flawed assumptions?    

 Fatal Error #4 When the Titanic set sail, it did not house nearly enough lifeboats for all of the passengers. The designers did not want to compromise usable space for life rafts. The ones that were included were for higher-paying passengers and small fishing expeditions.  This flawed thought-process cost many people their lives.   

This type of thinking occurs when companies are anxious to get products and services to market without lifeboat/backup plans for unexpected events. Remember “faulty Firestone Tires on Ford Explorers” or “accelerator problems with Toyota vehicles.”  The number one solution to avoid many of these disasters is a leader’s willingness to engage in and have critical conversations. We call these Deliberate Dialogues. They are conversations focused on key business priorities and not personal agendas or politics. Conversations create your lifeboats. It seems as though most, if not all business disasters occur as a result of a key player avoiding a necessary conversation.   

 Challenge Question #4 – What important conversation are you avoiding? What is holding you back and what could it potentially cost you?    

Fatal Error #5 Poor People Skills. The radio operator responsible for conversations with surrounding ships had an abrasive edge to his style of communication. This annoyed the person operating the radio of the nearest ship.  Irritated with his rudeness, the radio operator of the neighboring ship actually turned off his own radio and went to bed. When the Titanic radio people were calling for help, no one could hear their cries because communication had been shut down.     

How often does communication get shut down because of a lack of understanding of temperaments and social styles? Honestly…constantly! A Personal Vibe (Personalities) class is the first workshop we teach on any project. It gives people a common working language and equips them to communicate more effectively without taking things personally.  Communication is a vital and often undervalued skill.  Leaders tend to see it as fluffy or touchy-feely and miss the benefits that clear communication  and people-skills provide.     

Challenge Questions #5- When was the last time your employees had training in the area of personality types or communication? What assumptions are you making and how costly might those be?    

If the crew and management had addressed only one of the Fatal Errors differently, many lives would have been spared. But because of pride, arrogance and lack of being teachable, this story ended on a sad note. But your company has the opportunity to do things differently. Spend just a few moments and ask yourself what needs to be changed to avoid the sinking of your “organizational ship.” Do you need:    

  • To be more open to other perspectives,
  • A clearer vision about where your company is headed,
  • A better gauge of your industry’s climate,
  • More lifeboats (resulting from quality conversations), or
  • Better communication and people skills?

This is your chance. Don’t make the same mistakes.  Choose wiser and enjoy the many benefits of having everyone on your team rowing in the same direction. And if you aren’t sure where to start, call us at Jazz Business Consulting at 800-797-8138. Our “radios” are always on!   

Bon Voyage!

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