I just returned from Sweden where I had the opportunity to visit the Vasa Museum. The museum displays the only almost fully intact 17th-century ship that has ever been salvaged. The 64-gun warship sank on her maiden voyage, a mere 10 minutes after setting sail. Just a slight breeze caused the ship to list to one side and take on enough water to sink it. The ship built to intimidate its enemies never so much as made it out of Swedish waters.
What can businesses learn from this story? First, it begs the question: How solid is your ship? Are you equipped to handle the breezes of business, whether that comes in the form of an economic downturn, the loss of a key employee, or a lack of clear direction even when the sails are full?
The ship’s captain even tested the stability of the ship before setting sail by putting it in the water and having crew members run back and forth across the deck. He knew then that there were issues, but who wanted to tell the king that his mighty warship proved to be unstable just being moored in front of the palace? The Captain was given orders by a navy admiral to set sail.
As someone who works with leadership teams of all shapes and sizes, it was hard for me to, again, not draw some business parallels! Even in “successful” organizations, there can be a tendency to overlook issues or people problems for a whole host of reasons. There may even be a desire to hide those issues from managers, bosses or owners for fear of the repercussions.
After the ship sank, the king launched an investigation to find the person responsible for the tragedy. After a long, drawn-out inquiry, they ended up pinning it on the architect who had died before the ship was finished.
What a waste of time and energy. But it represents a real pitfall organizations can easily fall into: Spending their time and energy figuring out who is responsible for problems, rather than proactively working to identify and solve them before they do serious damage.