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What I Learnt About Business Transformations Fighting Pirates (Not in the Caribbean)! – Part 1

I was reminded of this story because I was talking about it in a workshop on business transformation last week.

I repeat it here because it will be relevant to many people fighting the hard corporate battle, many times without adequate backup.

Here is the true incident without any build-up or embellishment. You have to allow for the fact that this incident is nearly 25 years old, and memory does fade after many years and varied experiences.

Today, this incident almost seems like from a totally another life and place. I was sleeping in my cabin (about the same size as a studio apartment) when I heard shouts from the deck. On this particular ship, the chief mate’s cabin was not too far above the deck, and since the ship was at anchor in a tropical paradise condition, I had left the portholes of my cabin open to allow fresh sea breeze in. In fact, the air conditioner was defective, and I had to keep the portholes open.

I expected a peaceful night at anchor, but alas it was not to be. The sounds of other boats’ or ships’ engines never disturbed me. The shouts from deck did. Quartermaster (QM) on duty on the deck, and the Officer of the Watch (OOW) were both trying to wake up me, the Bosun, and other crew at the loudest of their voices.

I hurriedly put on a T-shirt and rushed outside to the boat deck to get a picture of the situation. I immediately saw the Quartermaster (QM) and OOW standing on the deck holding a couple of large crow bars or similar implements trying to simultaneously repel boarders and wake up the crew.

Two boats had come alongside. It is difficult to identify the intentions of the boats at sea, especially at night. Most are merely fishermen, petty traders, or offering goods or services to the crew. In high piracy prone areas the standing instructions at anchor are to never let a boat come alongside without challenge and permission. However, this was not a piracy prone area (I will not name the location because I have many good friends from this region and they are sensitive to any perceived criticism of this nature).

QM and OOW were relaxed till they noticed one of the boats throwing a grappling hook over a gunwale (sort of deck railing). That was a clear sign of intransigence, and got QM worked up very quickly, who was shouting at top of his lungs from the deck. Seeing this, I rushed back into the accommodation, and grabbed the first useful looking implement, a fire axe.

Meanwhile, the Bosun had also come on the boat deck with another bunch of crew – each with a useful implement that could be potentially used to defend the ship. Alarm was raised on ships horn, waking everyone up. A crew member was sent to lock all the accommodation doors from inside – barring one, which we were using. Almost the entire ships crew except for a few engineers and the Captain assembled on the port boat deck to defend the ship.

One of the pirates’ nimble ‘associates’ had scrambled over the taut rope – a steep vertical climb of about 20 feet – to the ships deck. He was in the act of pulling up a small rope ladder so that the rest of the lot could scramble up. We still had the advantage, this was the second best time to repel the boarders. The best time would have been to cut the rope from the grappling hook before the first person had boarded.

Because this blog is getting too long – I have broken the story into two posts. The remainder of the incident is recounted in the blog titled Industrial Age Tools vs Information Age Weapons, which can be accessed by clicking on the link.

That title does give away the key learning which is as follows: In another set of situations, I see people grappling with impossible odds with inadequate weapons all the time. I am talking about business  transformations that I help companies with for the last 19 years since becoming a management consultant after my MBA. Traditional tools of industrial age – methodologies, knowledge, practices and power structures are regularly deployed to fight superior forces of information age. Most people do not know the difference between the information age weapons and the industrial age tools, till it is too late.

Take a look at the graphic at the end of the blog. And, if you are still convinced that you have everything for the fight ahead – head out to Surveys Questions to confirm your opinion. On the other hand, if you are still taking stock of the situation, like I was doing from the boat deck before sending the repelling party out, These Surveys Questions will immediately give you the necessary information to formulate your game plan.

Changing Role of Supply Chain Management in Digital Economy

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