What We Can Learn From the Oil Spill and British Petroleum's Mistakes

Last Updated Jun 9, 2010 12:49 PM EDT

The oil spill is so depressingly catastrophic that I find it difficult to think about the aftermath objectively. There are some lessons we can learn from this disaster, though.

A string of failed -- some might say half-cocked -- attempts to stop the flow of oil gives us plenty of conversation fodder on its own, but it's also British Petroleum's response to the crisis that gives us some valuable lessons on how not to respond to business problems.

Last week, the Harvard Business Review listed several lessons from the oil spill, and I thought they were rather instructive. Here are a pair of observations from the article that are most relevant here in this place where business and technology overlap in our lives:

Preparing for a world where things only go right is extremely dangerous. Apparently, the oil rig was woefully unprepared for catastrophe, and that's not all that different than the way many of us carry on at work. Of course, for most of us, the result of a failure at work will not come close to approaching the problems in the gulf right now, but that's not an excuse to have working fallback plans, alternative software tools, and processes in place to deal with problems.

Don't downplay your problems. Whether you're dealing with an internal corporate audience or your external customers, be honest and transparent. That's often easier said than done, to be sure. But people can smell horse poop from a mile away. It has a distinctive odor. Face problems head on, assemble a solution -- with its own fallback plan -- and move ahead with confidence.