Phil Acock in the Fourayes Fruit Processing plant

Fruit industry comment and insights from Phil Acock

Aug 25, 2016

One small step?

I’m passionate about short supply chains, so it may come as a surprise to those who know me well that today’s blog takes us a little further afield: to outer space in fact.

Commander Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut famous for his other-worldly, guitar-accompanied rendition of David Bowie’s ‘A Space Oddity’, spent many months as lead astronaut on the International Space Station. In ‘short’ supply chain terms he was located roughly 400 km from earth and travelling at 27,724 km per hour.

Running a space station is apparently, perhaps surprisingly, a lot like running a business: there are any number of things that can go wrong. The only difference is that, in space, most of them can kill you. When astronaut Alan Shepherd was asked what he thought about, as he sat at the top of the Redstone rocket waiting for take off, he replied: ‘the fact that every part of this ship was built by the low bidder’.

According to Commander Hadfield, now a highly respected business speaker, every astronaut is trained to constantly ask themselves one question: ‘what is the next thing that is going to kill me?’

Although it may be counter-intuitive to continuously think about things going wrong, the simple fact is that if you know what the risks are then you’ve already begun the process of dealing with them. Waiting for equipment to fail may be mightily inconvenient on earth – in space it can be catastrophic.

It’s a philosophy that can be extremely useful in business. I’m not suggesting that we all dedicate ourselves to thinking about the next thing that might kill us. However, it does make sense not just to make hay while the sun shines but – to use a cosmological metaphor - to also think about what might happen when the sun doesn’t.

Many businesses have people in post just for that very reason – risk managers and other similarly titled teams and individuals.

I’m always a little nervous about that. Not least because while they’re concentrating on one potential risk there might be any number of other near misses passing them by. It seems far better to me if we are all asking the question ‘what’s the next thing that’s going to trip us up?’ Not ‘me’, but ‘us’ – in other words, if everyone in the company is thinking in that way not just about their own job but also about the job of the person next to them. If two heads are better than one, how much better are fifty, a hundred or two hundred? Dare I say that the impact on a business could be…cosmic?

Phil Acock
Managing Director and Mad Scientist at Fourayes; the UK’s number one grower and processor of English Bramley apples and processor of fruits from the UK and across the globe.

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