7 Management Lessons to Be Learnt From the Titanic

7 Management lessons to be learnt from the Titanic

It is an unforgettable incidence in the history of time. We have read about it umpteen number of times and seen many blockbusters on this theme including James Cameron’s “Titanic” the movie and his latest “Titanic” (in 3D). We all know that RMS Titanic was a passenger liner that sank in the Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Though we have seen bigger tragedies during the last 100 years with much more casualties and losses but there is something which makes Titanic different. The century old disaster is described as “one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters” in history. We are all emotionally attached with this tragedy and have tried always to learn more about the series of incidents which resulted in this catastrophe.

We as humans have always learned from our mistakes. Titanic too presents an opportunity for us to learn.

Here are 7 management lessons we should learn from the Titanic


Domain Knowledge is important.
Most of the Titanic’s crew members were pure technical staff like radio, deck & engine operators. Surprisingly, there were very few Seamen in it. The liner was a technical marvel so to operate all machines, lot many technical persons were hired. Unfortunately, domain knowledge of the sea which was critical for a safe sail was ignored. We know that fishermen who go fishing far in the sea in small boats survive even though they are not equipped with modern equipments. It is because they know the sea well. Technical knowledge is good to have but knowledge of the industry is equally important.  Don’t organizations most of the time end up hiring the technical staff without adequate vertical knowledge of the industry.


Go beyond the normal standards/ prescribed minima.
Titanic was fulfilling all the maritime safety regulations which were in vogue. But the regulations itself were quite illogical & outdated. The minimum number of lifeboats a ship had to carry absurdly depended on the weight of the ship and not the number of passengers. “Strictly” Abiding by the regulations, Titaniccarried lifeboats for 1,178 people only where as it had around 2500 people onboard. Aren’t organizations often happy just by complying with the old outdated standards? Without considering there adequacy to its own current requirements? Standards related to Safety, Quality, People Excellence etc. are often just paperwork to keep the certification “alive”. For example Labor Laws have fixed the “minimum wages” for the workers but big question is would this wage inspire a good worker to stay on? Fire equipments could be seen installed in buildings. They are in sufficient numbers as per the “fire safety norms” but are they sufficient for the number of workers in the building and type of business the organization is into?


Separate strategy/ critical success factors from the mundane activities
Jack Philips, the telegraph officer of Titanic was busy sending personal messages of the passengers that night. But when he got the warning messages about icebergs from other ships he ignored them as he was “busy”. No doubt, he was a dedicated worker awake and doing his duty at midnight. However, he was busy doing the routine activities without bothering about a critical matter like “safety”. Being on duty is not enough. Most of the time people spend their valuable time & efforts in doing unimportant activities which could be done later. Organizations fail even if employees work hard if their priorities are not set. These days, don’t the employees spend more time in clearing emails from the inbox than adding some real valueto the organization? Isn’t it often seen that Sales/Service people in organizations spend more time in office when they should be out meeting customers? Organization should set the priorities right for every employee.


Product has to be good. Services have to be even better.
The Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff who built the Titanic had all the liberty to spend money on making Titanic the best. It is often claimed that low standard “rivets, nuts & bolts” were the reason for the mishap. This is grossly incorrect. Titanic’s design was better than any other ship in its time. The ship builders had all liberty so they wouldn’t have cut cost or compromised. Titanicwas a very well designed product. What failed were the services. Operational disasters cannot be attributed to the product. We might have machines, infrastructure, technology worth millions but it would always need the right set of people to operate them correctly and deliver the desired results.


Marketing works even if product is costly or even if it’s recessionary times.
It wasn’t a good time for the shipping industry. The ships weren’t getting enough number of passengers due to the “national coal strike” in UK. The ticket charges of Titanic were also too exorbitant. First Class suites were sold at up to £63,837 (in today’s value).  Despite all these, the tagline “Virtually Unsinkable”, the liner was sold with, worked well. It was not the promoter’s megalomania when they marketed Titanic with aggression and boast. Titanic really had all the qualities and it was a well marketed product.  The right brand positioning with a proper marketing message had worked for Titanic and it does for organizations too despite pricing constraints and market conditions. But the condition is delivery shouldn’t “sink”.
6 Alignment to vision & a balanced mix of staff
Most of the crew members of Titanic were contract staff/ casual workers. They were not hired for a career but just to work. They had reported to duty few hours before the voyage. While they had experience sailing, they were not an integral part of the “Titanic” story. Big difference. This could result in poor communication & sharing within the staff. While contract workers are not bad they need proper training so that they work in sync with the organization.Secondly, “Restraint” was an important virtue Titanic’s crew needed when they were speeding up. A mix of staff with different emotional qualities is important for an organization. Having all zealots/ overconfident on board could speed up things but the organization might one day sink without trace. One important fact is that 97% of the crew members of Titanic were Men. There were only 23 female, mainly stewardesses. There should be more women in administrative and decision making positions. Women are equally competitive & result-oriented as their male counterparts but have also demonstrated more restraint & patience especially at the time of crisis.
7 Learn from the mistakes. Let others too benefit from the learning.
The sinking of Titanic inspired the grieving families and also owners of Titanic to actively drive the cause of navigation safety. Their efforts resulted in “International Ice Patrol in UK to ensure safety measures” and also formation of an International Convention for the “Safety of Life at Sea” (SOLAS) in 1914. During these years, these new regulations have indeed minimized the number of disasters in the sea. While organizations should learn from their own mistakes they should also contribute in building industry wide best practices/ new policies/ guidelines for the overall welfare of the industry and the customers.

 Sanjay Abraham, BE (Computer Science), PGDBM- Management consultant, educator & entrepreneur. Sanjayabr10@yahoo.com

15th April 2012

7 Management lessons to be learnt from the Titanic