Start and Finish with Why

2015-07-25 09.22.18You know what it’s like. You’re sitting on a plane waiting to take off and you realise that you’re just behind the exit seat.

Lucky escape maybe?

So the cabin crew asks the guy in front of me what language he would like the instructions for the door in and he says English please.

Me being me, as he’s reading it I lean forward and say “We’re all relying on you mate”

Cue laughter and conversation.

Top man he was. I never got his name but we did talk at length about a number of things. He was from Aberdeen and had just done a 72 (ish) hour trip to the coast of Gran Canaria to help decommission an oil rig that had never been used.

£300,000,000 (yes, that’s 6 zeroes) to build something that never left its base as there was no contract for it. So for three years it’s been sitting there being maintained, waiting to be put to use.

What a waste especially as the 200 odd guys working on it now had the security of 10 year contracted work being pulled from underneath them.

Anyway, this led us to talking about WHY it was built in the first place and who should take responsibility for this.

We ended up talking about the Zeebrugge Disaster in 1987 and the following inquest. (this guy was really interesting to talk to) and it was at this point that Kay chipped in with a story about the inquest that I hadn’t heard.

It turns out that the initial ‘reaction’ was to blame the captain of the ship (The Herald of Free Enterprise) for the whole disaster. If you don’t know the story or what I’m talking about you can read it here.

Long story short, the bow doors were left open and the vessel started to capsize trapping hundreds or cars and passengers inside it.

At the inquest they kept asking one question over and over again.


The panel were determined to discover the root cause of the catastrophe and not allow anyone to take the fall or be a scapegoat.

It went a little like this:

Why did the ship go to sea with the bow doors open?

Because the man who was supposed to tell the captain, didn’t.

Why didn’t the man who was supposed to tell the captain that the bow doors were open didn’t do his job? (Tell the captain).

Because he was asleep.

Why was he asleep?

Because he had worked two shifts back to back without a break.

Why did he work two shifts back to back without a break?

Because there had been staff cuts implemented and it was that or he was in danger of losing his job.

Why had there been staff cuts?

In order to keep profit levels up.

Why was it so important to keep profit levels up?

Because director bonuses were reliant on profits.

I appreciate this is a minimalistic summary of proceedings and I also appreciate that on occasion I can be a tad cynical but to my mind essentially, greed was the root cause of 193 people dying in just 90 seconds, in calm conditions only 90 meters from shore.

The story really resonated with me for two reasons.

The first because I believe that we’re too quick to place blame for many of the things that go wrong in our businesses and lives and simply don’t take the time to ask why often enough to work out the root case. I think we’re happy just trying to rectify the effects that we see, throwing money at poor Cash Flow for instance without looking at the reason(s) that cause it initially.

The second is that I don’t think we apply the why question as a “what if” often enough to recognise what could happen when trying to new things or launching new products. Not just in a negative way but also in a positive one. So, yes look for all the challenges that may arise by a decision going forwards but look at all the positives and reasons why you should do something as well.

In my mind you can’t ask why often enough. After all you are in the business of Free Enterprise yourself so make sure you don’t sink and if you do, make sure you know where the responsibility lies.