If you were like me, you were transfixed on the tragic Titan submersible story last week. I had never heard of such a thing before, yet I couldn’t stop constantly checking to see if there is any news, good or bad.
What we saw was someone had a great idea and with a significant combination of time, money and resources, was able to make that idea happen, quickly. Hindsight is 20/20 and it is obviously easier to look back, but when looking back we see this is not uncommon in business. The president has a great idea, tells the executive team, who may push back, but the idea is going ahead, regardless of opposing views.
Not being on the inside of OceanGate, I don’t know how the idea came together, but we do know it was the dream of its founder, and dreams are personal. “I didn’t want to go up into space as a tourist. I wanted to be Captain Kirk on the Enterprise. I wanted to explore,” he told Smithsonian Magazine in 2019.
Logic and pragmatism tend to get overrun by excitement and impulse. Determination then takes over, with excitement and impulse pushing it to the finish line, leaving logic and pragmatism in the dust.
This story has played out before in business – but for the most part with less fanfare and loss of life. Companies such as Spotify have claimed moving too quick and being able to buy out the competition or other services has resulted in them being tight on cash and needing to restructure and refocus. The same can be said for other cash and dream heavy companies like Zynga and Kind Snacks.
Leaders can learn from the lessons of OceanGate and its submersible:
Balance enthusiasm and impulsiveness
In work and life, we value enthusiasm and should encourage and embrace it. But when you mix it with impulsiveness, you search for a quick win without much focus on the details and process. Impulsiveness is a blind spot for many leaders, as they navigate multiple issues created by them or brought forth by others. Stay enthused and focused about underwater exploration or other exciting ideas, but temper impulsiveness to minimize missing important details.
Listen the to experts/advisors
Most new ideas are met with resistance – and with good reason. They are impractical, do not meet regulations or are not part of the company’s focus. The reasons can be endless and not what the leader wants to hear. The experts, however, may be saying to slow down and take more time to refine the idea or product. Either way, it is sound advice that should be considered, even if it is hard to hear and runs counter to actively pursuing the leader’s idea. Refinement is worth waiting for.
Money buys choice, but not much else
Throwing money at ideas and projects is just that – it can help determine the how and the what of the project, but it cannot buy a successful project. That is determined by something money cannot buy - consumer trust. It also cannot prevent something terrible from happening. The only thing it buys is choice, which, in the submersible’s case, is the opportunity to participate. It will not make something faster, safer or better on its own. Projects need strategy and thoughtfulness, something money does not buy.
Safety is never compromised
There is a reason airplanes are grounded - because there is a safety risk. No matter how big or small, it is a risk, and a risk is never to be taken. Safe for the most part, is never good enough. No work project, no matter how excited someone is, should disregard any safety warning, regardless of whatever bureaucratic process they many need to go through. I am not alone when I say I am grateful for the safety and standards process, no matter how bureaucratic, airlines have to abide by.
In this case, it appears enthusiasm, passion and drive, was overtaken by impulsiveness and money, which also overtook the advice and safety components of such an endeavor. I hope leaders learn from this story. Keep the ideas flowing, just slow it down a bit, talk to others and, most of all, don’t make it personal.
Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary Alberta