When I was a kid and still living at home the question of what film to watch together was the topic of much debate. My Dad’s automatic reaction was always, without fail “Zulu” and whatever suggestion followed would be met with the question “is there any shooting in it?” I remember the look of desperation on his face when my Mum got him to sit through “Somewhere in Time”. At time I conceded (usually in the name of pocket-money) to sitting through one of his favourites and I now proudly confess I knew most of the words to “A Bridge too Far” at an early age. One of his recurring favourites was (and still is) “The Dambusters” and he would tell me every time we watched it that Barnes Wallis also designed the Wellington bomber. I’m sure you all know the story – it’s the quest to bounce bombs into the dams of the Ruhr valley to significantly reduce the Nazi’s ability to manufacture.
So fast forward some years to a rainy Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, herself (being a world-class potterer) was doing various things around the house and I was yet again testing the effectiveness of the sofa as a host for my relaxation when I noticed “The Dambusters” was ‘live’ on TV. So I watched it.
Yes it’s a cracking film and yes being made nearly 60 years ago hasn’t aged that well but I sat happily engrossed in the story. It was only afterwards in reflecting on the film with a man called Keith that I started to think about some of the plot and how relevant it was to modern organisations and particularly to those trying to generate traction or change.
Barnes Wallis failed on numerous occasions before he got the bomb to successfully bounce. He persisted (in a Wile E. Coyote like fashion) to believe in his vision and to solve the problems that would stop him failing. He didn’t blame anyone for the failure and didn’t start to doubt his vision or belief – he just got on with it (to the point of wading into the water to collect bomb fragments).
The planes needed to fly incredibly low (60 feet as helpfully pointed out by Lydia) and the instruments of the day couldn’t measure that low – so they used two carefully positioned torches which when lined up would indicate the height. They needed to bomb from a specific position which they couldn’t judge effectively using the available systems so they used a small wooden device that lined up the structures of the dams to indicate the required position. They didn’t admit defeat they just calmly faced the problems and solved them.
It started me thinking about how both individually and through the vast machine that must have been the government and armed forces of that time were they able to continue to persist and to get the support and resources to take something from the drawing board to success in a relatively short space of time. I got past personal dedication, commitment, stubbornness and it was in their personal objectives (!!) fairly quickly and landed on imperative. Britain needed to reduce the manufacturing capacity of the enemy otherwise the war would be lost. I think it’s what a management consultant would refer to as a burning platform. Failure wasn’t an option.
We sit in organisations every day with visions and missions, purpose statements, objectives, milestones, intents, strategic goals and all nature of terminology surrounding what the organisation is trying to achieve. If in reading them they don’t create a sense of failure not being an option then stop, think and do them again. They MUST create a sense of imperative.