“ It was fry or jump, so I jumped. “
On a July evening in 1988, the Piper alpha oil-drilling platform in the North Sea exploded. 166 people lost their lives in the inferno. One of the 63 survivors was Andy Mochan.
The alarms woke Andy up and he barely escaped his quarters in time. Injured, he made it to the platform’s edge and looked down. 15 stories below him, the water burned with oil. In the frigid waters, he knew he had 20 minutes, maximum, to live.
Two thirds of the rig had already melted in the fireball and disappeared. Andy’s choice was the certain death of staying, or the probable death of jumping. He jumped, and he lived.
From Tragedy to Metaphor:
Andy’s story is one of courage in the face of unthinkable danger, and resolve driven by unimaginable choice. The tale has been turned into a powerful metaphor for illustrating the moment of decision in organizational change.
Daryl Conner, an international leader in organizational change, coined the term “burning platform” after watching Andy’s interviews on the news. In Andy’s ordeal, he saw glimpses of what went through his clients’ minds when confronting the choice between imminent disaster and probably failure.
While executives confronting change don’t risk being burned alive, they often have their businesses and livelihoods staked on the decisions they make. Connor refers to a burning platform as a crucible moment in change management.
A burning platform isn’t any organizational change. Connor established certain criteria to ensure that only the most critical situations qualify:
- There is a real and immediate crisis that cannot be ignored.
- There are a limited number of difficult choices.
- The choices are irreversible.
- All choices have a high chance of failure.
4 Types of Burning Platform:
The metaphor has gone viral, and is now taken up by Change Managers and Business Leaders worldwide. As often happens, virality has changed the original intended definition.
To Conner, the key element of a burning platform is not danger, but resolve. A crucible moment need not be “do or die” to a life or a business. The moment of fundamental organizational change is defined more by the commitment of our choice rather than the degree of peril.
There are 4 kinds of burning platform moments in business. The more “current” the threat or opportunity is, the easier the decision and commitment tend to be:
Current Problems: Your business is confronted with an imminent threat and you need to make a choice. This mirrors Andy’s story.
Current Opportunity: You have the chance take a leap and grow your business. Making the decision is often the easy part here; maintaining the commitment is the hard part.
Anticipated Problem: The threat is inevitable, but not imminent. You need to make a resolved decision in order to prevent future disaster.
Anticipated Opportunity: The most abstract, and thus the hardest to commit to with sustained resolve. There is an inevitable, but not imminent, opportunity. If you change now you can be in position to seize it.