We’re currently living in extraordinary times.
The world is coping with a health crisis the likes of which it hasn’t experienced in 100 years. Hundreds of thousands will die and the disastrous economic fallout will have a long tail.
During times of crisis there are some principles that work and some that don’t.
We have already seen various jurisdictions coping better than others, whether because of geography, demographics, leadership or more likely a combination. Guernsey is ahead of the game in this regard. We have a wonderful natural moat, sound leadership and the Guernseyman’s eidos is generally a combination of practical common sense and making the best of a bad situation.
Yet there is another principle at play that is even more powerful than leadership, demographics or geography. It’s working together. Throughout history it is people working together that have saved lives, saved nations, diverted countless disasters and created the phenomenal world in which we live.
Here’s just three examples:
The Airline industry
One of the most remarkable working together stories is that of the airline industry. Today there is only 1 death for every 1 billion commercial air miles flown. That is staggering. Compare it with motor vehicle deaths for example, which is about 11,000 deaths per billion miles driven.
Aircraft today have endless protocols, procedures and systems built in for our safety. The staff are all highly and continually trained. Planes are able to fly and land in almost any conditions whilst keeping us safe and for the most part comfortable. This wasn’t always the case.
In the early days commercial air travel was a risky undertaking. The industry knew that the only way to create viability was to make people feel safe flying. The largest airlines of the time met in Chicago in 1944 and signed what became known as the Chicago Convention. It was a unified set of principles and arrangements for international civil aviation; and it contained a standardised form now used the world over for recording aircraft crashes. This form would be shared between all airlines and used to enhance and develop safety. Instead of trying to hide their failures they shared them so everyone could learn and improve.
It is because of this “working together”, collaborative process that we have been able to enjoy cheap, reliable and safe world travel during our lifetime. Hopefully, we’ll be able to again soon.
Donation to Children’s Charity (the names have been changed)
Earlier this decade Dennis Jones worked for a small local company. During his tenure the economy collapsed leaving his company struggling for ready cash to pay their bills and (more importantly) their staff. But equally worryingly, the whole community was struggling. This downturn was affecting everyone. People were losing their jobs, families who were just about making ends meet now weren’t and families who had been really struggling were now in the danger zone. People were literally starving. Local charities were inundated with requests for help.
Jones knew that getting cash into his business quickly was important. But how to incentivise clients to pay their bills on time when they were struggling too? A quite obvious way to do this is to offer a discount for early payment. But could there be a way to help not only his company but others too? Creatively, Jones added this simple line to every invoice. “At this time, we would really welcome your early payment and to show our appreciation of your support we will donate $50 to a local charity if you pay within 7 days”. This way, clients could help a local charity simply by paying a bill they were going to pay anyway. Receiving the cash early more than made up for the cost of the donation. It worked and a far greater proportion of clients paid within 7 days than normal. A win for Jones’ company and a large donation for the charity.
But it gets better…
As you know, life has a funny way of working out. One of Jones’ clients, Steven Clark, saw the line on the invoice, liked the idea and paid his invoice straight away. That evening Clark got to thinking about this unusual way of incentivising early payment, he also looked up the local charity he had vicariously supported. He liked what he saw again. They were doing great work right at the coal front for very needy families. Clark sat on his company’s CSR committee and suggested that they support this charity by way of their weekly final hour’s pay giveaway. This is where a firm’s employees all agree to give the last hour of their week’s pay to charity. Clark’s company was much larger than Jones’ and he was able to make a further donation to the charity of over 10 times that of Jones’. The charity was delighted and managed to help many more families, Jones was thrilled, and Clark felt good too. Sometimes good things happen, and people work together without even realising it.
Fly me to the Moon
On the 12 September 1962, on a hot and sunny day 40,000 Americans gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas to listen to their president deliver a speech. They went because their president was young, charismatic and seemed able to capture the spirit of the age; but what they witnessed was a speech that would change the course of history.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
America had suffered a decade of living in the Cold War under the constant threat of nuclear war. Whether this was a perceived fear or real fear the debate goes on, but, either way, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re scared, you’re scared whether there is actually something to be fearful of or not. What the people needed was something to get their teeth into, to focus on, something that could bring the nation together. Luckily, they had an inspirational leader.
John F Kennedy was young, handsome, charming, articulate, thoughtful, compassionate and a war hero. JFK inspired a generation to work together to achieve the unimaginable. He gave his nation a purpose. As we all know America made it to the moon by the end of the decade and it was indeed a giant leap for mankind. It is estimated that for every dollar spent by the USA in funding the moon landing it has received $10 in return. It also inspired many inventions that today we couldn’t live without. The camera phone, CAT scans, athletic shoes, LED lights, the dustbuster, jaws of life, memory foam and laptops to name a few.
So, whilst this pandemic is truly awful and many many people will suffer, our suffering can be lightened by our unique human ability to work together, to look after each other and think about how together we can work our way towards a better future for us and our children.
This blog was written by John Hibbs. John is on the Advisory Board of Perrin Carey Limited and has two decades of experience in leadership positions. We are very grateful for John's contribution to our work and the collaborative partnerships we are building across the business community in Guernsey and around the world.