THE BLOG
02/21/2013 01:55 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2013

In Grand Command of the Titanic... Are You?

What is it about our careers, our businesses or our life goals that is going wrong because we have stopped paying attention to all the indicators around us? We may be at a point in life where we are either constructing our career to do good work or have an enterprise that is going relatively well, and yet there is something missing. Many of us have at one point in time been in grand command of the axiomatic Titanic in our lives. In other words, we had constructed a stealth vehicle to realize our dreams, which ended up calamitously to our chagrin for the world of friends to admire as the ultimate failure. This, after we had employed our skills and talents to do something really amazing, and for one reason or another, we run into an iceberg triggering a cataclysmic event never to be forgotten. For those of us who have been in this situation I trust this resonates.

In the last blog we talked about the progeny of success being failure. This time around, we are looking at the conditions that preside over grand failure. Do we sometimes set ourselves for failure? This leads to the demise of dreams and affects our entire universe while set on the noble work of doing good.

The Titanic:
For those of us who are hopeless romantics, the term Titanic started off being synonymous with a grand "unsinkable ship," a true representation of the accomplishments in technology during the Industrial Revolution. A cozy milieu in which romance and a puritanical beauty was sat on the large waters set to sail off in splendor. And yet in today's anthropological circles, the titanic epitomizes a sunken outdated, mismanaged, gargantuan/elephantine approach to life. A "dinosaursonic" failure that came about due to unexpected quintessential attributes, at the helm of which were: arrogance, miscommunication, engineering flaws and a senseless overconfidence. The prestigious honor of Grand Command of the Titanic hence went to the redoubtable Captain E.J, Smith, set to sail his last voyage.

But before we lambaste Captain Smith and all involved in the Titanic's demise, its important to understand the gravity of the accomplishment that was the Titanic.

Consider the facts:
To appreciate how important the Titanic was to the 1900s, you've got to understand how it all came about and the historic significance of this man-made treasure.
• Built out of Belfast, North Ireland, headed to the shores of New York, of the 3000 laborers working on the Titanic, 250 got injured and eight died in the process.
• The Titanic weighed 46000 tons and was twelve stories high. Many say as tall as the Empire State Building.
• The price of a single first class ticket for the maiden voyage on the Titanic was $4,700, the equivalent of about $50,000 today!
• One of the ironic facts about the Titanic is that it contained a heated swimming pool, the first of its kind for a luxury ocean liner. Mind you, we are talking about the 1900s.
• The construction of this mammoth took about two years.
• In 1898 (14 years prior to the Titanic tragedy), Morgan Robertson wrote a novel called Futility. This fictitious novel was about the largest ship ever built hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean on a cold April night. The fictional ship (named Titan) and the real ship Titanic were similar in design and their circumstances were remarkably alike. Both ships were labeled "unsinkable."

Given those fantastic and aforementioned facts, it's important to note that after those ascertained thoughts, the sad reality was they didn't necessarily alter the calamitous terminus of the Titanic! Lesson: So many times we have built our dream to answer the noble call of the day. Even with all our ducks in a row, there is still something that happens only to alter our intended destination. Despite the perilous clairvoyant warnings by the sage around us, we still run into an unfortunate destiny that could have been averted had we listened to their premonitions. This is true in business, education, marriage, our children's lives you name it; we all fall victim to this datum. But most of all, the Titanic exemplifies several lessons many of which cannot be captured in this blog but some are too important not to be pointed out as we shall see below. The lessons are reflected in the kind of mistakes and failings that were made by those in charge of this elegant project. When I built the global soap project I understood the destination and that was to serve the least among us with this revolutionary idea of recycling soap into brand new bars. I have humbly taken every advise from both friend and foe so as to construct an organization that will get to its destination because there will be no arrogance standing in the way; a key reason as to why the Titanic sunk.

The Titanic's indelible Failure:
Did you know that on that fateful day, the Titanic's crew received 6 iceberg warnings before the collision? All of them went ignored because of the captain's ego and others whose pernicious interest in speed and rush to get to their destination in record time, ended up in a miasma of terror. But isn't this true of many of us. When we are in the process of chasing after our dreams, sometimes at key moments we do ignore dire warnings from friends: employees, spouses, or board members and mentors (as I have come to learn) of the impeding doom if we follow a particular trajectory. In this case the best choice is to take heed and avert the iceberg.

Another stunning fact was that of the 2,201 people aboard the Titanic, only 711 survived even though, the lifeboats on board are rumored to have had the capacity to hull 1,178 people. The reason was that there might have been confusion as to whether the passengers should be loaded on and then lowered to the base of the ship or whether they should lower the lifeboats first and then have the passengers lowered one by one! Alas, for the most part the decision went in favor of the affluent, thereby leaving many of the lifeboats unfilled to capacity. This failure reminds me of bureaucratic decisions in organizations that are faced with a wreck. At the highest level the leadership shows incompetency because there is no transfer of knowledge from top to bottom and vise versa. A good example is the recent Home mortgage debacle that cost many of the American consumers their dream because of greed on the part of the affluent few. The upper echelon of our so-called elite financial society had no answer when the housing bubble hit the iceberg. Today, we all brave this titanic decision with our economy suffering because of financial bureaucrats who had no idea how to stir the ship the right course.

Lesson: even at your elite level, remember that your selfishness should not cost people their lives. As the captain of your ship remember you are responsible for everyone aboard. The sign of a leader is that at a time of disaster he or she makes it their duty to save everyone on their vessel. This trait is also referred to as servant leadership and it's hard to find within some so-called leaders because they lack a moral consciousness and gumption at critical times. That is no different from the grand command of the titanic that was exhibited by her leaders!

The last failure on the Titanic among many was the fact that it's rumored that the iron used to construct the ship's rivets was substandard. It was no match for the huge icebergs hence the quick destruction of the Titanic, which was said to be no less than three hours after the fact. Lesson: What materials are you using to construct your dream or enterprise? Are they substandard? If so, this shortcut will cost you dearly when you run into life's icebergs. If you need an education to improve your current skills, then please go get one. If you need quality control at your factory then put that in place before something goes wrong. The last thing you want is for your product to be recalled from the market place thereby costing you millions of dollars. As an example we at the global Soap Factory do test each and every batch of our soap for pathogens to avert any quality control issues; a costly affair but one that guarantees quality for our clientele, the poor. To this end, many of us have refused to put in the time to build strong structures for our dream so that when life's vicissitudes hit, we immediately collapse while others who have taken the time to construct strong structures, see success during a time of distress. There are no short cuts in life! As the scriptures say, don't build on sinking sand.

An example of today's Titanic: Lance Armstrong, Kenneth Lay and Bernard Madoff (made-off) were all in grand command of the Titanic!

I think deep down in our hearts we are all still reeling in shock that a good story in Lance Armstrong has ended up in titanic fashion; sunken! After watching the Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong, I couldn't help but think what happened here? How could Lance ignore all the signs of disaster moreover with a straight face?

After thinking through it for a minute, because that is all it takes in this case; a minute, it was painfully evident to me that this once redoubtable athlete, was in grand command of the titanic all along. Lance Armstrong, good as he was, honestly believed that he could drug himself into success and take a shortcut all the while ignoring the admonitions from his teammates of impeding doom.

Like the Titanic, Lance Armstrong built a stealth apparatus that was geared towards success and even when he was cautioned and reported to be in breach of his ethic, he stormed ahead at full speed. When Lance Armstrong's titanic hit the preordained iceberg of truth, the quintessential truth, he is the only one that got onto the lifeboats leaving all his cabal on board a sinking ship. He destroyed lifelong friendships, while preserving his own. This is hardly different from the Enron scandal, which was totally built on the pillars of fraud. What is so amazing about Enron is that the captain of the ship, Kenneth Lay, ends up committing suicide rather than face the reality. Another of this incredulous crop was "Bernie" Madoff! Talk about the road to perdition these three are revered students; a troika of poor leadership!

Lesson: Failure can happen in the middle of your journey to success. The question is how you handle it once you hit the proverbial iceberg. The key is to take time to make the right decisions before, during or after the fact. This can save lives and your dream. If you think the captain of the Titanic was an allegory of reckless abandon, then you have not had the distinct honor of meeting the more recent prizewinner of all foolhardy captains, Mr. Francesco Schettino of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy. He literally jumped ship before all his passengers we safely off the sinking vessel. To this day, the captain of that ship is in denial and feels no guilt of his handy work of destruction. This kind of behavior stinks to high heaven.

As such, because of Lance's abhorrent behavior, cycling is now held in question by all of us. Perhaps a more vivid picture is the recent announcement by the BBWAA board that flaunted this year's inductees into the baseball hall of fame with a blank page! An embarrassing symbol of doping that infested an era of the greats, the likes of Barry Bond et al, who cheated their way into butting records. This is no way to neither make fame nor birth ingenuity.

As a leader remember that before you meet the fate of failure, take heed to advice; pay attention to the foundation on which you are building your enterprise. The choice of our ethics as leaders could be instructive or destructive for the next generation. Don't use substandard materials. Be understanding of speed so that when the icebergs show up, you can change course in time to avert them. However, should failure arrive, as so it shall, remember it is supposed to be instructive and we are supposed to make it work for the general good. As you go out today remember that.

Your decisions at work can be informed through a consultative process with your subordinates. Consider your customer base a beautiful bride, one with whom substandard work will be snubbed only to cost you a pretty penny. Small things do matter in the long run. Stay clear of the icebergs when stirring your ship of dreams.

The Grand Command of the Titanic does not end up on a collision course with an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; rather, it should end up at the sandy shores of New York!