Management lessons from September 11, 2001 - Vusi Thembekwayo

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Vusi Thembekwayo 02 October 2019

I have studied the events of September 11, 2001. In my next book, I go into detail on what we can learn from the heinous events of that bright September morning. Read this article for some management tips.

I will never forget that day. I was standing outside my high school alma mater, Benoni High. The sky was partly cloudy but the breeze was heavy and humid. My friend Dominic and I had just finished choir and drama rehearsals.

Without warning a lady abruptly jumped out of her white Mercedes and screamed, “Two planes have just flown into the trade center buildings in America”.

It’s a South African-ism. Calling the United States of America without considering that the Americas are continents, and the USA is a country.

She looked at us perplexed. Her puzzled expression asked the lingering question in that awkward but tense silence, “did you hear what I said?” it asked.

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I turned to Dominic and asked him, “what is the trade center?”

Until that day, most of the world did not think about the trade center or the twin towers beyond the opening shot of a movie to establish the scene.

Curiously, the United States intelligence cluster was aware of two of the terrorist pilots that flew those planes into the twin towers. Muhammed Muhammed el-Amir Awad al-Sayed Atta & Hani Salih Hasan Hanjur had been flagged by the FBI for attending a flight school and skipping the classes where the landing module was taught.

Part of the reasons they were not further investigated was because of a lack of collaboration within the cluster, their inability to share data (this idea that certain information is classified) & a poor imagination. You need an imagination to see through a risk. You need imagination to see beyond the readily available data and connect the dots that often seem unrelated.

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The greatest risk in business today is not a poor strategy. It is a lack of imagination. The inability to see through the anomalies and understand them to be what they often are, either risk or opportunity.

There are some key management insights from the heinous events of September 11, 2001:

  1. Your greatest risk is often not in your risk schedule. Keep am open mind;
  2. Standard operating procedures for the standard operating environment. If the environment you are in changes, you need to reconsider those “standard practices”;
  3. Never say never. Who could have imagined that the world most powerful nation wouldn’t be attacked by a like-force (another nation-state) would be attacked by a group of well-organized rouges?
  4. Stay humble. The bigger you are, the easier you are to target.

What are you imagining?

Vusi Thembekwayo

Speaker | Investor | Dragon Slayer