When building a ship, you have to consider every possible shear force and bending moment which could impact its hull over a twenty-five to thirty year life span. These days there are few incidents of ships breaking apart unless maintenance and repairs have been severely neglected. This is a remarkable feat of design-thinking and engineering considering that the hull is exposed to external loads exerted by waves and internal loads exerted by ballast, cargo, bunkers and machinery.

Are we able to apply this design-thinking approach to building a business capable of standing strong for a twenty-five year to thirty year life span and beyond. Perhaps the first step is to become more accurate in diagnosing the impact of external and internal loads exerting shear forces and bending moments on our business.

External loads currently affecting our business are; increasing adverse weather events brought on by climate change, the complexity of the interconnected global economy, the volatility of a high interest rate environment, the challenging local business environment, disruptions in the supply chain brought on by shortages from powerful suppliers, increasing customer buying-power due to the market consolidating into fewer customers, increasing competitor rivalry in a shrinking market and the growing call for adoption of alternative fuels such as bio-fuel, green ammonia, hydrogen and ethanol.

Internal loads currently affecting our business are; achieving our purpose as a business amidst the difficult local business environment, the rigid structure of our organisation as a result of the mandatory training and development regime for seafarers, limited financial resources, limited technology capabilities and increasing human capital development and productivity requirements.

The external and internal loads referred to in the preceding two paragraphs are not meant to be an exhaustive list, simply considering every combination of these loads could lead decision makers into a state of analysis-paralysis.

Drawing on our example of utilising design thinking which keeps a ship afloat may provide a useful method for decision making in business. Aiding leaders in navigating choppy waters under a fog of uncertainty. A ship floating in water is in a state of static equilibrium but as the ship moves through the ocean it has to maintain a state of dynamic equilibrium. This is achieved by trimming its draft to the correct waterline. Simply put, a ship’s heel may drift away from its centre of gravity, due to waves or the sea-current exerting external forces on the hull. The Master of the ship has to adjust the internal load by moving cargo or fuel oil to the aft, bow, port or starboard tanks to bring the ship’s heel back to its centre of gravity. Taking this action, known as the Righting Lever, safely puts the ship back on course and is known as the Righting Moment.

The external loads are beyond the control of the Master and exert a significant load on the hull, causing the ship to begin to list and potentially capsize. The Master avoids disaster by using dynamic capabilities to rearrange resources in a manner that moves the internal loads towards the dynamic equilibrium.

I find this to be a profound business metaphor – Developing the Righting Lever allows a design thinking strategy to be implemented. Black Swan moments or unexpected business scenarios are on the rise, so much so that the latest business buzzword is VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). Businesses have prepared business scenarios, disaster management plans and attempted to create dynamic capabilities. However, in many instances these well thought out strategies are either “bad strategies implemented good or good strategies implemented bad”. A poorly implemented strategy prevents businesses from reaching their Righting Moment resulting in poor performance.

We have deliberately spent time developing the right culture in our business as we understand that the right culture is the right lever to achieve the righting moment in a business. We encourage meaningful engagement with one another on our business purpose. We call on every company citizen to demonstrate constant caring towards one another. We encourage dissenting, diverse dialogue and hold ourselves to the highest ethical and safety standard. – “Safety is our culture and our state of mind.”