Near misses in business are more prominent than you think, and as Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahnman puts it, ‘We can be blind to the obvious and we are also blind to our blindness’.
Be very careful of those seemingly minor mistakes in your business operations, because some of them have the potential to seriously jeopardize your business. Their danger is that they somehow look harmless or “business as usual”, so entrepreneurs pay little attention to them, until disaster strikes. In short, some hiccups can cause death!
Minor but dangerous hiccups
An example can be recurring faults in widely marketed products that get discovered just before full production and distribution. If the cause of these faults is not eliminated or contained, it only takes one fault undiscovered to put a serious dent to the bottom line through, for example, cost of recalls and, not to mention bad reputation.
Another example can be repeated, and apparently insignificant, compromises in restaurant hygiene that are accidently or casually spotted by kitchen staff. If the cause of these misses is not addressed, it’s only a matter of time before an undetected compromise leads to food poisoning, possible loss of license and a permanent shut down of the business.
How about loose lending policies during boom times, with bankruptcy losses seemingly “small” compared to profits?
This type of underlying cause can act like a time bomb if not addressed immediately. And it is only a matter of time before the big disaster strikes.
Best to learn from others
If you think your business is immune from such “obvious” misses, think about NASA and the reason behind its Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. Here is an excerpt from the Columbia Accident Investigation Report (emphasis is mine):
The shedding of External Tank foam – the physical cause of the Columbia accident – had a long history. Damage caused by debris has occurred on every Space Shuttle flight, and most missions have had insulating foam shed during ascent. This raises an obvious question: Why did NASA continue flying the Shuttle with a known problem that violated de¬sign requirements? It would seem that the longer the Shuttle Program allowed debris to continue striking the Orbiters, the more opportunity existed to detect the serious threat it posed. But this is not what happened. Although engineers have made numerous changes in foam design and applica¬tion in the 25 years that the External Tank has been in pro¬duction, the problem of foam-shedding has not been solved, nor has the Orbiterʼs ability to tolerate impacts from foam or other debris been significantly improved.
It was clear that each time the Columbia Space Shuttle made it safely home, the near miss was not considered a serious threat despite it being against design requirements.
Many businesses can be oblivious to these warning signs, and mistake them with “normal” operations. It takes objectivity to identify them, and courage to act on them, because some may require a radical change of tact: new design procedures, tighter hygiene protocols, tighter lending policies…etc.