The concept of ‘The Burning Platform’ was first introduced by Daryl Conner who used the metaphor of an Oil Rig worker who had to leap into the water to save himself when the platform of the rig was burning. In this situation if the worker did not jump there was certain death as he would have got burned on the platform and jumping into the heated water with debris was possible death if he was not rescued within 20 mts. So he took the call based on the odds of saving his life although both options he had had a high risk of death. What he essentially tries to say is that sometimes we need to take a call in a hopeless situation such as a burning platform and such a call can ignite and motivate us to unite as a team and do the impossible.
Therefore counties unify when there is a burning platform. A historic example is Japan after world war 2. Similarly there are many examples of people uniting when there had been a suicide bomb attack, sports teams uniting after a heavy defeat, companies uniting when competitors launch a game changing product etc.
However the concept of burning platforms, if taken literally can be misunderstood to mean that a team needs a disaster to unite. There are 4 Types of burning platforms as shown in the following matrix.
Lets examine each of these burning platforms;
- The Platform is burning: This is a problem faced by the team in the present. This means we are in trouble and need to take immediate action. Examples of this situation are; competitor has launched a game changing product, one of our factories have been destroyed by fire, A quality issue that has put us in the danger of loosing our biggest customer, trailing 0 – 2 in a soccer game, civil commotion affecting the supply of vital raw materiel etc.
The leadership response: In this situation the leader needs to gather the entire team and collect information regarding the situation from all team members, asses the crisis quickly, show the team how it can affect each member and the team, collect ideas on how to deal with the situation, formulate a plan and assign team members to take action. Given the situation and its personal impact, the team will [at least temporarily] put aside their differences and work together to deal with the situation. This process can bring diverse team members together, generate creativity, ignite the passion and create synergy. Teams coming out of such situations are generally stronger and are geared to achieve greater results. In this situation the leaders challenge is to convert fear and confusion into confidence and hope.