Change? It’s too late after the Platform Burns!
06 Oct 2016

Change? It’s too late after the Platform Burns!


categories: Change Management

Occasionally, change is forced upon us by some form of disaster, tragically fatal in certain instances.  Literal (oil) platform fires remain as vivid historical markers, such as Deepwater Horizon in 2010 and, before that, Piper Alpha in 1988. The latter with the loss of 167 lives and a cost of $3.4 billion and the former with the loss of 11 lives, the spillage of some 200 million gallons of oil and a cost of $56 billion.

During the blaze on Piper Alpha three men realised that they were in an impossible position and at the edge of the platform had a stark choice – stay and be burned to death or, jump hundreds of feet into freezing water and likely die of hypothermia. Two jumped and were subsequently rescued.

Andy Mochan was one of those two and he inspired American consultant and writer Daryl Conner to coin the ‘burning platform’ metaphor in his book ‘Managing at the Speed of Change’.

Conner’s focus is not the management and safety failings of the platform owners, but rather how businesses should look out for situations where there is an urgent problem to fix and – when doing nothing is not an option. Mochan’s personal legacy was the campaigning he did, thoughout the rest of his life, to improve safety on oil rigs and in work places in general.

Stephen Elop, CEO of the once mighty Nokia, told his staff that they were ‘on a burning platform’ and the only hope for survival, albeit risky, was to switch from their own mobile technology platform to that of Microsoft. It was indeed risky: and it failed. But there probably was no alternative by then. Arguably, Nokia’s burning platform moment was when Apple launched the iPhone.

Similar business critical situations were experienced at: –

  • Blockbuster – didn’t react to the collapse of DVD rentals, could have switched to a streaming service
  • Borders Bookshops – failed to move into e-readers, unlike US rival Barnes & Noble
  • Formerly leading mobile phone manufacturers: Ericsson, Motorola, RIM (Blackberry) – all slow to see the importance of touch-screen and the mobile internet

Why did they wait? Many burglar alarms are fitted AFTER the break in! Why? Is it human nature that makes most of us reluctant to change our habits and behaviours?

Commercially, the need and “Speed of Change” means that we have to continually think about transforming our businesses and managing the changes seamlessly.

How can we develop the desire and capability to be more pro-active about change?

Agile companies do not wait for the competition’s train to come down the line; for a rival’s innovative idea to come to market; until sales drop before reacting to a shift in customer demand – instead they consistently challenge their approach and change, pro-actively. Waiting to learn about the need to change ‘on the job’ has not been a sensible option for some time. To empower executives to recognise; quickly react, and transform their business practices, we need to immerse them in a series of pre-crafted burning platform situations and witness their rapid adoption of new behaviours and practices. The results are amazing.

We at ProfitAbility devise and curate business simulations whereby managers face relevant, credible challenges – and those often involve make-or-break decisions about the future of their business operations. To take Conner’s list of major threats, we handle them all:

  1. Insolvency
  2. Share price plummeting
  3. Government ban or legal action
  4. Hostile takeover
  5. Disastrous merger
  6. Collapsing market share

We will sit down with you and talk in detail about the challenges you face: we then create an environment where participants try various strategies in safety, with no fear of failure – that’s how they learn.  We insert ‘what ifs’, random factors, competitive reactions, environmental factors, and whatever else is relevant for your current and future markets.


Conner convincingly states that change is about two things:

Commitment – and,

Courage – being prepared to ‘pay the emotional price of committing without being sure of succeeding’

Experiential Learning

The good news is that you can learn firsthand about “succeeding” through our business simulations. We have frequent business simulation Open Days at the Institute of Directors (IoD), London. They are free, fun and provide a quick a window on how experiential learning really does lead to effecting change.

Don’t miss the opportunity – register here.

Chris Howgego – General Manager, ProfitAbility

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