Just like a raging wildfire, the market is volatile. The prevailing winds of consumer trends rapidly change direction, the competitive landscape is often cluttered, and mistakes can easily become fatal to a young company.
How should a new company cope?
Start-ups should look to other organizations that successfully operate in treacherous and highly dynamic environments. Fire fighters who fight wild fires, nurses in emergency rooms, and combat units are all examples of organizations that must operate at extremely high levels of reliability in rapidly changing environments.
In Managing the Unexpected, Karl E. Weick identifies five principals that enable high reliability organizations (HROs) to mitigate and contain unexpected events. These principals are common to fire fighters who battle wildfires, emergency room staff members, and soldiers in the line of fire.
HROs cannot afford to make huge mistakes. When mistakes are made they need to be quickly contained. The HRO Principals listed below enable these organizations to operate at a high level of reliability.
1. Preoccupation with failure - Spend time working out all of the mistakes you can’t afford to make. Try to anticipate what the competition might do that could pose problems. Think though the worst case scenarios.
2. Reluctance to simplify the problem - Be skeptical of simple explanations. Remember that reality is nuanced.
3. Sensitivity to operations - Work hard to gain a perspective from the front lines and all of your customer touch points.
4. Commitment to resilience - Problems are going to happen. They key is a commitment to respond to unexpected jolts without getting flustered. Be ready to quickly bring resources to bear on any issue 24/7. You always need to have an engineer and a designated spokesperson on call.
5. Deference to expertise - Expertise trumps all. Listen to your experts.