Two contrasting new stories

The drones that have closed Gatwick airport have been the news story that has caught our attention this week. It is front page news across the world. The only good news has been that it has moved Brexit to the inside pages of the newspapers! The Government’s response to the drones that this is ‘an entirely new type of threat’ is probably not quite accurate. Warnings about drones at airports have been raised for a few years now but because the risk had not become a frequent reality, it has been kicked into the long grass. Suddenly the Dept of Transport says it will now take urgent action.

The other story that caught my eye this week is of an ingenious guy who dug a large hole in his garden. His neighbours were surprised when a steel shipping container turned up and it got buried in lots of concrete in the hole! The top surface was grassed over again and it looked like a picturesque garden once more. The container it turned out is to provide a bunker in case of nuclear attack or a wine cellar for the rest of the time!

The two stories of the drones and the shipping container might seem singularly unrelated but they struck an immediate chord with me as an adviser to small businesses. The drone story seems a classic case of not preparing for a wholly foreseeable crisis whilst the nuclear bunker is preparing for a relatively unforeseeable crisis. What a contrast!

What are our forseeable crises?

As we go into this Christmas holiday period it might be good to reflect on ‘What are our foreseeable crises for which we are unprepared?’ ie ‘What are the drones hovering around our businesses?’ If we have an ongoing process of planning and reflection this will make identifying issues like drones so much easier. It is a well-worn phrase but the classic ‘Those who fail to plan, plan to fail’ is all too true.

Lessons for our businesses

Burying a shipping container might not in practice be a necessity for most of us but it might hold some relevant ideas for our businesses:

1) The strength of the shipping container is in its structure. The corner posts are its strength and allow containers to be stacked up to twelve high. The steel roof in contrast is not itself strong and doesn’t need to be.

Where does the strength lie in our organisation? Our strength may perhaps be in our reporting framework, cash flow management, corporate culture, our values, management integrity, accountability and governance, a strategic plan which is review at least annually. Our regular frank board meetings with agendas, notes and actions may be at the heart of our effectiveness.

2) The buried shipping container is there as a refuge in an emergency but it is invisible from the surface.

Do we have our emergency plans hidden from obvious sight but ready in a crisis? Have we drills and actions for possible eventualities? Even in our day to day work, the clarity of our contracts, for instance, may not be outwardly obvious but can help to avoid pitfalls. The quality of our relationships (within and outside the business) is tested in a crisis but if we have invested wisely in the people dimension and built trust then this will help to see us through dangerous times.

3) The steel used to build a modern shipping/cargo container is a corrosive resistant high-strength low-alloy steel.

Do we have the right mix of materials and resources to build our companies? If so, we can punch above our weight without being dragged down by complexity and bureaucracy.

4) Building a bunker with a shipping container is being supremely proactive.

What are our pro-active actions as we head into 2019? Of course we can’t do everything but we can prioritise and be proactive against the immediate dangers around us. To do that though we may need to step outside our businesses and look from another perspective – even dare I say it, from the perspective of a drone!

5) The shipping container usually serves as a wine cellar.

Are our businesses dynamic, friendly places to work and with which to trade? If the underlying structure is right then we can have reason to enjoy being in business knowing that protection is in place to cover the challenges. But for the good times which are hopefully the norm we can enjoy our wine cellar!

Happy Christmas!

David

*A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is a historical novel by Charles Dickens, set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution. The novel tells the story of the French Doctor Manette, his 18-year-long imprisonment in the Bastille in Paris and his release to live in London with his daughter Lucie, whom he had never met. The story is set against the conditions that led up to the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror.