- 19 April, 1995 – the bombing of the Oklahoma (USA) Federal Building
- 20 April, 2010 – the explosion and subsequent oil spill on the Deepwater Horizon
I expect most of the coverage will focus on the first anniversary of the start of oil spill, let us not forget that 11 people died in the incident on 20 April, 2010.
Even that number is insignificant in the context of the 168 lost at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma – but that was 16 years ago and the memory for many has faded.
More importantly, let us hope that we (and the organisations we work for) can learn from these events. This has been an area of focus for me lately, here are links to a couple of posts around the subject;
- … why we do not appear to learn from recent disasters
- … from ‘Piper Alpha’ to ‘Deepwater Horizon’, do we really learn?
Actually I think it is more important that the organisations learn – and that means that we need to learn not just about the incidents that occur, but how the culture of organisational planning can often ignore real world constraints.
Lee Clarke explored this idea that managers create the impression they can do impossible things in his book Mission Improbable – Using fantasy documents to tame disasters. Clarke used the term ‘Fantasy Documents’ to describe the plan documents that are created to formalise these impossible missions. In particular Clarke explored some specific examples in detail – these included;
- the US Postal Service’s plan to deliver the mail after a nuclear holocaust
- the claims of Oil Companies that they can contain an oil spill in the open ocean – which will be rather topical with the Deepwater Horizon anniversary.
Clarke’s point is that society, and these organisations, would be more resilient if they just admitted that they cannot control the uncontrollable. The article linked above about oil spills is from 1990 – shame the idea has not caught on!
Perhaps the final comment on this is appropriately a quote from Lord John Browne, former Group Chief Executive of BP. Lord Browne retired early following the problems the company had in 2005/2006, including the Texas City Refinery disaster.
“Giving up the illusion that you can predict the future is a very liberating moment.
All you can do is give yourself the capacity to respond to the only certainty in life – which is uncertainty.
The creation of that capability is the purpose of strategy.”
This quote comes from a speech in November 2001 – he was talking about the September 11 attacks.
Do you have any ‘Fantasy Plans’ in your organisation?
Are we normally too close to our own plans to really be able to answer that question?