Before I retired, some of my favorite consulting work was on disaster planning. But there as with the current spectacle of a runaway deep oil well, one had to believe to make it work. You see, the real problem is that most people, especially senior executives, just don’t think it can happen to them. The idea of a properly inflated spare tire, jumper cables and so forth are just foreign — after all, the motor club is just a phonecall away, right?
So too with companies that cut inventories to nothing, relying on just in time replenishment from distant suppliers, keep all records in one place in their main corporate office, etc. With a web of dependencies this spread out it doesn’t take much to bring it all crashing down. All very clever, for a while — untill a strike, snowstorm, fire or other break from normalcy brings it down. And then everybody panics, scurries around like a bunch of frightened cockroaches and makes statements designed to obfuscate the reality that they have no clue what to do and are making it up as they go along.
You see, the ones who believe tend to be the ones who have survived a near death experience and learned something from it. Their disaster plans tend to be simple with focus on key components of their business. They may have plans for the rest, but when the chips are down they worry about what is important. And the folks at the top are very much involved in the decision making.
The ones who do not believe are the ones who do it because the auditors call them bad names if they don’t go through the motions. This kind of planning has casts of hundreds if not thousands with much paperwork and a sincere desire that there be a plan for everything and every possibility. I think the term ‘reducto ad absurdum’ (my appologies to Latin of course) may apply. And the disaster planning management typically does not bother the exec with these little details — just reacts when the business changes direction and the reams of rigid planning are broken.
So in the case of the gulf, one has to believe that the boys at BP, TransOcean (and the rest) just did not believe it could happen to them — so why bother asking the questions? Or pondering what might happen if the impossible did? It is just human nature after all. And most of the time we get away with it.