Today many companies are experiencing a crisis driven by external events. I have used this story for many years in order for those in charge to face up to their brutal reality.
At 9.30 on a July evening in 1988, a disastrous explosion and fire occurred on the Piper Alpha oil-drilling platform in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. One hundred and sixty-six crew members and two rescuers lost their lives in what was (and still is) the worst catastrophe in the 50-year history of North Sea oil exportation. One of the 63 crew members who survived was Andy Mochan, a superintendent on the rig.
From the hospital, he told of being awakened by the explosion and alarms. Badly injured, he escaped from his quarters to the platform edge. Beneath him, oil had surfaced and ignited. Twisted steel and other debris littered the surface of the water. Because of the water’s temperature, he knew that he could live a maximum of only 20 minutes if not rescued. Despite all that, Andy jumped the equivalent of 15 floors from the platform to the water.
When asked why he took that potentially fatal leap, he did not hesitate. He said, “It was either jump or fry.” He chose possible death over certain death. Andy jumped because he felt he had no choice – the price of staying on the platform was too high.
This is the same type of situation many business leaders find themselves in today as a result of our brutal reality all around us. We sometimes must make some truly radical changes, no matter how uncertain and frightening they are. We, like Andy Mochan, would face a price too high for not doing so.
An organisational burning platform exists when maintaining the status quo becomes prohibitively expensive. Major change is always costly, but when the present course of action is even more expensive, a burning platform situation erupts.
The key characteristic that distinguishes a decision made in the burning platform situation from all other decisions is not the degree of reason or emotion involved, but the level of the resolve. When a company is on a burning platform, the decision to make a major change is not just a good idea – it’s a business imperative.
The urgency of burning platform situations motivates us to execute and sustain major change. Two types of situations can generate this urgency: The high price of unresolved problems or the high cost of missed opportunity.
So many business leaders in the GCC are in a similar situation as Andy Mochan was in on that horrendous night in the North Sea. The high cost of missed future opportunity, in my opinion, is driving us forward to take the plunge. I am convinced that the technological revolution that is underway is a double-edged sword. We can embrace the opportunities on offer, or we can ‘fall on our sword’ with the possibility we will literally commit business suicide.
This is a time when real leaders must come forward and act decisively, timely and with confidence demonstrating to their team that their confidence in him/her as a leader is truly deserved.
The world has changed. There is no way back. We have no other options. The rest of the world is watching. Are you ready to jump?
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at email@example.com