• Karissa Warmack

Mayday Mayday! #ProjectTitanic

“We have struck iceberg … sinking fast … come to our assistance.”

Those words became the epitaph over the 1,514 souls lost on the Titanic that cold evening in 1912.  The Titanic was the largest, most advanced ship of its time, but it was doomed from the start.  Even a century later, the case of the Titanic illustrates how technological failures often result from a succession of omissions, missteps and bad luck rather than one big mess-up.  In fact, we know that it wasn’t the iceberg that caused the disaster. The real cause is clear.  It was failed leadership.

Today, many parallels and analogies can be made to enterprise leadership and decision making.  Here are a few lessons to be learned:

Failed Leadership

Captain E.J. Smith was one of the world’s most experienced and decorated sea captains at that time.  Yet, during the voyage of the Titanic, he ignored the facts and disregarded seven iceberg warnings from his crew and other ships.  As the ship began sinking, the crew and passengers struggled with the lifeboats. There had been no drills, no rehearsals, and the crew stood unfamiliar with their responsibilities. For whatever reason, he neglected to empower his crew with the right resources and tools to succeed – or in this case, avoid catastrophe. A good leader helps people improve their skills so they can become more productive.

Politics & Bias

The early 1900s certainly were fraught with biases and economic hierarchies which perhaps explains that the percentage of lives that survived were based on their cabin class.  (61% of first class passengers survived, while only 25% of 3rd class passengers survived.) Politics and bias are plentiful in our working environments and can prevent successful outcomes merely by allowing the loudest voices (i.e., first class passengers) the biggest platform.  It can shut down voices that could potentially contribute substantial insight and benefits.

Absence of Truth

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder,” said Captain Smith years before the Titanic’s sailing.  Clearly, there were false assumptions – that it would never sink and only half the number of lifeboats (preparedness) on board was just fine. Failing to be exhaustive in your requirements and inputs can lead to disastrous outcomes.  Better to ask the tough questions and be open to equally tough answers.

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