We cannot prevent icebergs from appearing, but we can prevent ourselves from hitting them head-on, explain Julia Schmidt and Pepita Pedersen

People often take pride in having done things the same way for a long time. We assume we can keep repeating the same formula, using our copy-paste system. We have all heard that if we do things the way we have always done them, we will get the same results again and again. To amend our results, we need to do things differently, be open to new learnings, abandon all comfort zones, and constantly embrace change.

You have probably also heard this many times in the last ten years: Embrace change! The numerous disruptions we have faced and the upcoming ones – even if they are still unknown to us – are tangible signs that the waves of disruption will keep arriving faster and faster. They will keep impacting how we work, sell products and services, do business, and stay competitive. 

What Keeps Us Up at Night? 

We invite you to answer this question and identify what trends, changes, and disruptions are most relevant for you now.  

Consider these five elements when you prepare your answers:

  • New disruptive technologies
  • New transformation processes
  • New skills to be learned
  • New competitors
  • Fear of losing control of career development

We know that the status quo is enormously powerful and, at the same time, the enemy of change. We have also acknowledged that repeating the same formula, having too much belief in past success or experience, and not being open to knowing what we do not know will not help us stay afloat. 

How Can We Avoid Sinking?

We have all heard about one of the best-known and most illustrative failures in the history of shipping: the sinking of the Titanic – the British luxury steamship that sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg, leading to the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew.

What sank the Titanic were many critical safety lapses and excessive pride on the part of the ship’s operators. The story of the Titanic is both famous and powerful, as it holds lessons to be learned on how to create and prevent disasters. 

Here are six important points learned from the disaster that can help us create a survival manual to be used along our career journey.  

1. The Lack of Practice 

The Titanic sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time on its maiden voyage. 

  • Neither ship nor crew had ever practiced the most vital performance and safety procedures before setting forth across the ocean. The ship had barely made it out of the shipyard and had only performed a few hours of test runs in open seas. 
  • No safety drills were ever planned before or during the voyage.
  • No one in the leadership of the vessel was made responsible for passenger safety.
  • No procedures were developed, and no skills were taught for operating lifeboat equipment. There were only enough lifeboats for a third of the people on board.
  • No clear passenger communication and organization protocol was designed or taught to the crew. 

How to strengthen your change and reinvention capacity

In life and at work, with what is going on around the world, in times of high disruptions, instability, and vulnerability, allocating time for rehearsal and preparation is crucial. However, when planning our career journey, we still tend to believe that things will remain stable and safe for a long time. 

  • Think ahead and understand the evolution of your role and the need to reinvent yourself.
  • Identify the new needs or trends necessary to ensure your safety along the way.
  • Learn new skills and build a strong skillset that will serve you in the future. It will form part of your lifeboat equipment. 
  • Be curious and create plans B, C, and D to provide you with enough lifeboats.
  • Embrace change as an opportunity to grow.
  • Listen to experts, colleagues, and peers and their new ideas. Some people are simply better than others at seeing beyond what is happening right now. Make them part of your crew. 
  • Design your career strategy and make it your operational procedure. 
  • Celebrate quick wins, and do not be afraid of failing. 
  • Discover new ways of working daily! With the speed of change, old methods will generally not help to solve entirely new problems. 

2. The Absence of Binoculars 

David Blair was originally appointed as the Second Officer of the Titanic, but a few days before its maiden voyage, he was replaced by a new officer. Blair left the Titanic on April 9, 1912, and took the keys to the crow’s nest locker along with him. It was probably an accident, but it is believed to be the reason no binoculars were available to the crew during the journey. This made spotting the iceberg unnecessarily difficult.

How to ensure you have the necessary tools and resources at the right time in a changing environment

Looking ahead with binoculars will allow you to see beyond obstacles and achieve a clearer view of potential barriers. This leads to better planning, anticipation, and decision-making. Looking at the future means becoming excited about tomorrow and doing everything possible to provide the most value to those you serve. Looking ahead also means nurturing a world-class network of people who will help you navigate the world. 

  • Look at the future constantly and use this ability to upskill yourself.
  • Develop new skills by scheduling time to learn. 
  • Get insights and information on new trends from your executives and leadership team. 
  • Read industry reports and always remain curious. 
  • Seeing beyond obstacles also involves having a multi-faceted network of professionals! That is why we joined the Global Alliance of Reinvention Professionals. We learn new things from world-class professionals and acquire diverse perspectives on how to survive and thrive in disruptive times. 

3. The Arrogance and Overconfidence in Past Success 

On the night of the collision, the ship’s captain had already gone to bed, and First Officer William McMaster Murdoch was left in charge of the ship. With 16 years of maritime experience at the age of 39, Murdoch was known for his cool head, quick thinking, and professional judgment. He was also known for his successful track record of averting ship collisions. 

  • First Officer Murdoch applied past experience to the new challenge of avoiding a collision with an iceberg.
  • His overconfidence limited his ability to judge the situation correctly.

How to become more mindful and selective in the use of past experience

Simply relying on past achievements can lead to stagnation and sink your ship. What about pushing the “refresh button” to reshape skillsets and old mindsets from time to time?  

  • Be open to reinventing how you solve problems, create solutions, and perform routine tasks. The reality is that no answer is perfect enough, and no solution will last forever. 
  • Brainstorm new ideas and ask yourself and others: What can be done differently this time? Communication platforms help teams have discussions, share ideas, and find new solutions in collaboration. That is when new experiences quickly replace past experiences. 
  • WhatsApp connects several people in a feature called Groups. It is one of the channels used by many professional networks. Slack is also a useful communication platform.
  • Build your Reinvention Club of Executive Support Professionals today! Create an inspiring culture of change in your team and make people feel comfortable questioning the status quo and finding new ways of doing things. 
  • Many innovative breakthroughs have resulted from questions such as: Why not? Why doesn’t this work? What are we missing? What if…? I wonder what happens when…? I wonder what we would get if we did A and B? Check out Julia’s article Wanted: Your Curiosity to learn more about promoting environments that foster curiosity and a reinvention mindset.

Staying afloat requires constantly constructing a better version of yourself. Keep yourself alive by embracing change and anticipating the reinvention processes needed, creating a toolset of habits and skills to help you lead your transformation today and tomorrow – and creating a belief in what is possible. 

4. The Prevailing Weather Conditions

How was it possible that the Titanic sank on a seemingly calm and clear night while the night temperature was cold, but above freezing?

If we look at some of the conditions in isolation, we may be baffled by why so many lives were lost. Other weather and sea conditions were at play, which helps us understand why the disaster reached such significant proportions.

  • On the night the Titanic sank, the skies were clear but dark since the waning moon had already set before 5 p.m. 
  • Yes, the sea was at a “flat calm,” but this meant waves could not be seen crashing against icebergs, which could have possibly alerted the crew to danger much earlier than it did.
  • The air temperature around midnight was about 4° C, while the water surface temperature was -2° C, making for deadly conditions for hypothermia.
  • The Titanic’s crew and captain were sailing blind on a path known for its iceberg hazards.

How we can make sense of our own prevailing “weather conditions”

VUCA world conditions and our attempt to stay ahead of constant change can leave us reeling. While world leaders have to operate under VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity), BANI (Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, and Incomprehensible) can be used to describe the chaotic systems we have to work in and the effect this has on individuals. 

We often remedy this chaos by organizing ourselves into order by running faster, working harder, and using more time on projects than is necessary. This will just lead to exhaustion and burnout.

  • Know that chaos and order have a distinct relationship. 
  • Have you ever observed a colony of ants around an anthill or a swarm of bees around their hive? Their movements seem chaotic, but when observed, each individual has a purpose and is on a mission to perform its function in complete sync with the entire colony or hive.
  • Once we understand the effect prevailing conditions have on our industries, businesses, teams, and the work we do, it will allow us to be better equipped to organize projects and tasks according to their impact and, more importantly, according to how ready we are to complete them. 

What could be examples of chaotic disruptions?

  • Working with regulatory bodies that use different parameters
  • Having a mandate from your company with opposing resources
  • New technologies changing the landscape of your industry and business
  • The tipping power of buyers, suppliers, competitors, and other stakeholders

5. The Proverbial Iceberg

What sank the Titanic? The first answer for many of us is “The Iceberg!”

After examining the other causes contributing to the Titanic’s demise, we cannot ignore the most infamous iceberg of our modern history.

  • 1912 was not an exceptional year for icebergs, nor was the number of occurrences of encountering icebergs unprecedented. The iceberg did not appear out of thin air but was at the end of its possible 1- to 2-year life cycle, about to melt into oblivion in the north Atlantic Ocean. 
  • If the Titanic had sailed a week or two later, there would possibly have been more voyages than only its maiden voyage.

We can neither prevent icebergs from appearing nor can we move icebergs out of the way, but we can prevent ourselves from hitting them head-on.

Which icebergs do you blame when things don’t go as planned?

  • Apathetic department heads?
  • Unresponsive stakeholders?
  • Archaic processes?

How can you avert the hazard or flip the iceberg on its head so it melts into oblivion? 

Ask yourself: 

  • What is out of my control? Should I spend time worrying about things that I can’t change?
  • What can I influence to change the prevailing conditions?
  • What is in my direct control to change immediately or in the near future?

6. Not Heeding the Warnings

The Titanic was fitted with a state-of-the-art wireless communication system, the most powerful set at the time, having a range of 250 miles, and was hooked up to the ship’s telephone system, but there was no direct link to the bridge.

  • The two wireless operators, John “Jack” Phillips and Harold Bride, were so preoccupied with sending personal telegrams for their passengers that they ignored a warning from the Californian about ice ahead. They received at least six warnings about ice, but only one of these messages made it to the bridge. 
  • Around mid-afternoon on April 14, the system broke down and only came back on at 7 p.m. that evening. By this time, there was such a backlog of messages that a very loud warning from the Californian was met with an angry reply by Phillips: “Shut up, shut up, I am working Cape Race!”
  • Phillips and Bride’s failure to heed the warnings of passing ships and pass these on to the bridge to take action cost over 1,000 people their lives.

How we make sure that we are hearing the warnings

  • Get your information and insights from diverse, reputable sources.
  • Do not ignore warning flags from industry partners. Investigate!
  • Invite key stakeholders to engage with you instead of being cut off from them.  
  • Understand that all systems are connected. Which part of your business would you like to get to know better?

In Conclusion

Let’s use the powerful story of the loss of the Titanic to help us write our own survival manual to prevent disasters along our journey. This survival manual will strengthen our reinvention skills and help us get through any change, disruption, or disaster with confidence, endurance, and the right tools. 

We want you to stay afloat!


The Chief Reinvention Officer Handbook: How to Thrive in Chaos by Nadya Zhexembayeva 

The Incredible Story of the Iceberg That Sank the Titanic 

Titanic twist: 1912 wasn’t a bad year for icebergs after all

The Titanic 

JULIA SCHMIDT is an award-winning Executive Assistant with over 20 years of experience working in different industries. She is known for being a passionate advocate for people development and in helping others succeed and embrace their leadership skills. ... (Read More)

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