Lean enterprises win

Lean enterprises win

May 17th, 2017

Lean enterprises win. A bit more than a century ago the Norwegians conquered the South Pole while well funded and well resourced British “competitors” in the race to Antarctica all died on the way back.

Lean enterprises win

The Norwegian expedition leader was Roald Amundsen. He trained with the Inuit in Canada during an epic prior expedition to the North West passage. Robert Scott led the British team and showed up at the South Pole 34 days later than Amundsen despite starting much earlier.

Lean enterprises win

Amundsen Expedition at the South Pole (from left to right): Roald Amundsen, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting
Date 17 December 1911 Source: Amundsen, Roald: The South Pole (Vol II), London, John Murray 1912

Despite the British team had more men and resources they were late and ended-up dying on the return journey. Lean enterprises win, large, heavier enterprises may die due to lack of innovation, lack of preparation in front of adversities, lack of savvy decision-making at a point in time.

This story reflects in many ways two different business models, we would also say two different risk management approaches. The leaner team triumphed and the well-financed team failed. Sounds familiar in today’s world, i.e. startups and new ventures where oftentimes lean enterprises win.

  • Reportedly Scott made management mistakes and was finally responsible for multiple deaths.
  • He reportedly took reckless chances like relying on man-sledges or leading his team through brutal Antarctic storms.
  • Amundsen was more meticulous about not risking his expedition when he didn’t need to. He also knew when to turn back.

Coaching and mentoring, subject matter experts

An experienced coach mattered in those times and matters today. An experienced risk-coach offers immense support, helping avoiding blunders.

  • The preventative mitigative actions Amundsen learned from the Inuit (dog sleds, igloo-building techniques and loose-fitting fur parkas), who coached and provided subject matter expertise, saved his life and expedition as they were:
    • sustainable,
    • reasonable and
    • well proven.
  • Modern risk assessments used in support to decision making allow decision-makers to develop mitigative road-maps that are:
    • sustainable
    • reasonable and
    • efficient.
  • The Norwegian were fast, able to adapt and pivot, like a modern startup should be to maximize chances of success.
  • The big military-style British expedition encompassed lots of men, lots of supplies and a careful, slow, deliberate route with little space for:
    • pivots,
    • tactical changes,
    • strategic shifts.
  • The resemblance with large corporations with complex management is astounding especially if one considers the difficulties these have in dealing with fast emerging risks, crises.

Clearly setting success criteria is paramount

The Norwegians had a very clear success criteria for their mission: get to the South Pole and plant the Norwegian flag.

The British had a fuzzier focus: get there while gathering scientific data of various kind.

Success and failure criteria are of paramount importance when developing risk assessments which will support your decision making toward success. Lean enterprises win, especially if they are properly coached, mentored and can use subject matter experts.


We can learn a lot from these expeditions of the past. It’s again a matter of “old risks simply renamed” when we look at modern corporations, startups.

Contact us to learn how we could make it happen: lean enterprises win!

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Category: Risk analysis, Risk management

2 responses to “Lean enterprises win”

  1. Hector says:

    Since I attended a course given by Franco in Chile, everything have being changing about risk and control matters, however to change old perspectives and excel matrices with colors have been difficult. Keep pushing ’cause this is the right path in order to mitigate and minimize business risks at various levels (industries, processes, climate&terrorism&eartquakes events, decision making and so on). Many thanks and very good article…..I’ve attended coaching courses based on this Antartic Challenge…..Vikings over Sirs…regards, Hector . Mining Industry

  2. Franco Oboni says:

    Hola Hector,
    Many thanks for your kind comments. It is true that it is difficult to introduce proven, but innovative, methodologies, despite the fact they bring incredible benefits to their users. That’s why we keep teaching courses all over the world.
    Please look from the menu above at “knowledge centre” > “customized training and coaching” > “upcoming courses & workshops” to find info about our next course at TMW 2017.
    Talk to you soon!

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