What the Titanic Can Teach You About Business

As we began to re-open our community, seeing some businesses open and others, who I thought were strong, close for good, got me thinking about paying attention to the market and how having a plan in place can keep disaster from dealing you a fatal blow. Many movies have been made about the tragic story of the Titanic. Arrogance and ignorance were definitely present during its maiden voyage, which was it’s last.

Many warnings were given, but unfortunately, the warnings were not taken seriously. On April 14th, 1912 Titanic received six warnings that icebergs were present in their area. On the night of April 14th, Titanic struck an iceberg and ultimately sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

For a lot of contractors, what happened to the Titanic does NOT have to happen to them. Many have learned from the mistakes that Titanic made.

There are several examples that follow and form a parallel to what happened and how you can learn from Titanic’s mistakes as the world re-opens.

  1. The Titanic only had 16 lifeboats, which was not nearly enough to save everyone on the ship.
    Only about 60% of the entire lifeboat’s capacity was used! Does your company have a disaster plan in place? Are your computers, website, financials and key data being backed up on a regular basis?

    The crewmen in the lookout tower were not issued binoculars to better search for icebergs.

    Employees were not given the proper tools to use to do their job. Is your company using the right tools and systems for the job? Are you saving money on upgrading your business but losing customers? If you are losing customers, you’re NOT really saving any money at all.

  2. Titanic had a total of 16 watertight compartments.
    Initially, it sounded fine, but unfortunately, each compartment did not hold water on its own. Every compartment was similar to an ice cube tray. When one compartment overflowed, water flowed into the next compartment. Each compartment did not completely seal off water on its own.

    If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that you need a good plan. Does your company have a good disaster recovery plan in place? If a flood or fire (or pandemic) struck at work, would you be able to resume business operations quickly or would it take a months?

    Is the information that you have on-site being sent off-site so you CAN have another place to access your valuable information?

  3. The Titanic was going at full speed at night in iceberg-infested waters.
    Are your machines and tools running at 100% capacity on a continuous basis? How much is downtime costing you when those machines aren’t being used? Are you REALLY saving money by not buying more machinery? Does the cost of more machinery outweigh the cost of your present machine’s downtime?

  4. The Titanic did not heed the iceberg warnings that were given.
    Titanic received six iceberg warnings on the day it sank! Is your sales force (even if that is you), customer service department (even if that is you) and/or helpdesk REALLY listening to your customers? Sam Walton, the founder of Wal Mart, said that the most important person to an organization can be the one who greets the customers. Too many companies don’t even realize just how MUCH each person represents their company!

    There is WAY too much competition in the marketplace NOT to heed warnings. Industries like telecom, automobile, office supplies, soft drinks, and restaurant industries, just to name a few, had better take warnings seriously. Some companies might not get the luxury of six warnings that the Titanic got. Sometimes, only one warning can break a company. That’s why companies that DO encourage, and take seriously, customer feedback are invaluable and can be a gold mine.

  5. The Titanic only had white flare guns to signal for help.
    Red is the standard color for a flare gun used to signal for help. When the Titanic was sinking, white flare guns were shot off from the ship. One or two ships many miles away saw the white flares, but did not interpret the white flares as warning messages.

    Does your business use the proper means of communication? Is it ensured that all of the parties involved completely understand what the other parties are saying? Many groups within an organization speak entirely different languages. Sales, technology and management conversations may be similar to translating three different foreign languages.

  6. Bruce Ismay, the president of White Star, pressured Captain Smith into unrealistic and dangerous goals.
    Ismay wanted the Titanic to arrive in New York on Tuesday, April 16th. In order to meet this goal, the ship would have to travel at full speed a majority of the time. The coercion from Ismay turned out to be dangerous.

    Ismay’s level was similar to the CEO level today. Is your company’s CEO and the rest of the management staff setting realistic goals? Are your managers providing bilateral communication? Feedback is vital to any company’s survival because many managers are not involved in day-to-day activities.

  7. The wireless operators’ priorities were not focused on the ship’s priorities.
    Many of the aristocrats in first class had paid both operators bonuses to wire messages to New York. One of the Titanic’s operators told another ship to shut up after being given another iceberg warning. This one mistake cost thousands of lives.

    Are you doing all you can to retain and acquire customers? Doing it the right way can save the company thousands of dollars and maybe more!

  8. The Titanic’s steel construction was never tested in cold temperature.
    The steel that made up ocean liners in the early 20th Century was brittle to begin with. Unfortunately, the steel was never stress-tested to determine what stress levels the structure could withstand.

    Is adequate testing being done on your company’s products or services? Are you up to the challenges of customer’s demands?

Covid-19 has taught us a lot about ourselves, our businesses and our customers. If you get to get up on Monday and still swing a hammer, then make sure you build enough safety measures into your business to sustain it during hard times, like now.

Darren Slaughter is the founder and president of DarrenSlaughter.com, a digital agency focusing on website design, social media management, and content creation for home improvement contractors.