This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic (above) on its maiden voyage — arguably the most famous passenger liner, whose tragic story has fascinated generations of people, launched countless books and inspired several movies.
At 2.20am on April 15, 1912, Titanic sank in the North Atlantic — two and a half hours after hitting an iceberg. Of the more than 2,200 people on board, 1,517 of them perished.
At that time, Titanic was the largest, fastest and most luxurious ship ever built. There are many management lessons people can learn from this disaster:
Timing is everything
If the lookout on Titanic’s crow’s nest, Mr Frederick Fleet, had seen the iceberg 10 seconds earlier, the ship would have been able to avoid hitting it.
Had he seen it 10 seconds later, the head-on collision would have damaged the ship but not sunk it.
The iceberg, in fact, grazed the starboard side of the ship, punching a series of holes below the waterline — causing five of its 16 watertight compartments to be breached in a mere 10 seconds. Titanic was doomed.
On the RMS Carpathia some 93km away, wireless operator Harold Cottam was preparing to go to bed as it was past midnight but decided to alert the Titanic wireless operator that there were messages for him.
Titanic’s senior wireless operator Jack Phillips replied immediately: “Come at once. It is a distress message; C.Q.D.”
Had Mr Cottam decided to tell the Titanic operator about the messages the next morning, the Carpathia would not have responded to Titanic and possibly more lives would have been lost.
Lesson: Being alert and knowing when to act can avert disaster.
Beware the calm before a storm
The night of April 14, 1912 was still and clear. The ship’s officers were aware that there was ice ahead and that icebergs were more difficult to spot on calm, moonless nights.
In addition, the lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee were not equipped with binoculars, which had been misplaced in Southampton at the start of the voyage.
By the time Mr Fleet noticed the iceberg in the ship’s path, it was too late to avoid it completely.
Lesson: When things appear to be going smoothly, people can become complacent or compromise on important issues. Managers must always anticipate crisis and have a plan in place.