The ship was in trouble. A storm had suddenly appeared, and it was worse than any storm the ship and the crew had ever experienced before. “What should we do?”, the captain shouted desperately. One of the navigators came to rescue and said “We must paint the ship red, because then, according to statistics, we have a 10% reduced risk of going down. It is written here in a best-selling new book, which everybody is talking about.”
What a stupid story! I don’t even want to know how it ended! Who would ever do such a thing in a storm? Everybody knows, even people who have never set foot on a ship, that the ship must be turned up against the wind and ride out the storm.
But the story is analogous to what happens in many companies across the globe, all the time. When in trouble, then instead of using the tools and craftmanship already known in the company they put their faith into something new and promising, a silver bullet that once and for all can kill the monster they are facing.
This, it must be understood, takes some time to implement, and in the meantime the real problems remain unresolved and the ship is seriously at risk of going down.
I once read a comment at Amazon on a book review about Lean – a very angry reader of the review said that Lean was absolutely not as good and great as the reviewer claimed, as it had earlier been implemented in his company, causing it to fail. And now he and many colleagues were out of work, just because of that terrible Lean.
Okay, I understand that this guy was angry. it is not nice too loose a job. Many others with him, no matter if they lost their job or just experienced various trouble and unpleasant times because of a new management philosophy, have reasons to be sad, angry, disconsolate. But most likely the company was already in trouble and tried to get out of it through Lean. In the story about the ship to be painted in the storm you really cannot blame the paint, can you? Those who caused the misery were those who made the decisions. The statistics, the idea, the paint, Lean – and more or less also the storm, are all just input to the decision process.
From bad decisions come bad results. Often a course or a strategy is set on the basis of a “fad of the month” – something which is being talked about a lot, but which might not have anything to do with the problems or challenges seen in this company; and yet it is introduced as the solution. Sometimes just a solution, not even to any particular problem.
With a ship, it often makes good sense to do all kinds of alterations when in a harbour, in a shipyard or at least in quiet waters – instead of doing them in high sea. There are many clever things to learn from other companies, new ideas, new technologies. And maybe the colour of the ship really does have an influence on how it survives a storm. It just needs to be examined a bit before becoming the new strategy, as it may not be the solution to any of this company’s problems. And even if it is, a storm is usually not the right time to implement it.
And here we are getting to a point: I think that companies really should listen to all those who claim to know exactly what to do. They should listen and learn but not just copy the ideas, not just run with the most popular philosophy. And especially, they should never believe that anything will solve all current and future problems. When a philosophy has been picked up it takes time to adopt and adapt it. It takes years and should not be seen as a solution to an urgent or emerging crisis but rather as a way of making the company stronger and more capable of handling future problems – and by that avoid a future crisis.
As for the sudden storm: use the tools and skills you already have. Get help if needed. And then learn from it all and let it help shaping the organization for the future.