It’s hard to imagine that a crazy street person and the BP disaster have something in common. Now add in a painful leadership lesson and you’ll know what’s in store for you when you face something that can go terribly wrong in business.
I was in Boston recently taking in the fabulous city. I’ve been there many times as I have family there. I love roaming around the city walking everywhere. If I’m tired I can always take the T or a cab back to the apartment. This visit was no different. I was walking to my favorite getaway–Trader Joe’s–I’m serious,as they have wonderful products that I just can’t get in Dallas.
The day was beautiful. It was 70 degrees, sunny, with blue skies overhead and not a cloud in the sky. I had my sunglasses on and as I walked, I looked around. Many of the stores and restaurants had just put out their flower boxes and filled them with a wide array of colorful flowers. The greens contrasted with the reds, blues and pinks. I took it all in.
As you’re walking, you can people watch in Boston like you can in any large city. Along with the reds and blues of the loyal Boston Red Sox fans you can see people from all over the world. Boston street traffic has a quiet hum that’s different from the noisiness of New York City. Boston is so much more civilized. Or at least I thought it was.
This time, as I crossed the street I heard someone shouting. The words were not all intelligible. As I got closer, I saw a 6 foot tall, casually dressed man who appeared to be in his late 30s. He was screaming. He didn’t look like a disheveled street person. He just sounded like an angry man.
I saw a young family walk by him. There were moving quickly. There was a father, mother and two young boys in a carriage. They were Jewish. How did I know? The kids and father had on skullcaps. This angry man was yelling abut Jews and much of what he said was garbled, but that much I could hear.
It got a little scary. There was a crowd of about 15 people walking around this family. Despite the numbers in the crowd, no one said anything. The light turned red and we were all standing at the stop light. The screaming continued. I said, “Stop screaming.” The big, angry guy couldn’t tell who it was and continued yelling while moving on. The family moved on away from him as well. The whole situation left me shaken.
How is this like the BP catastrophe? Someone knew that the test for explosive gas in the drilling mud was inadequate. A test which would normally be 18 hours or more was judged adequate at 30 minutes. There had to be other opportunities to stand up and say something when a fail-safe blow out preventer also fails. Where were the people who could have said “stop” before this catastrophe happened?