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BLOG: The fallacy of fire, fear and flames

JOANNE FLINN | March 8, 2012
The real story of burning platforms

Daryl Conner is the founder of Conner Associates and a living legend in the field of organisational change and strategic delivery. I had the privilege of having breakfast with Daryl while I was in Washington, DC last month.

"A Burning Platform, they've got it so wrong,' said Daryl. 'I was looking for a metaphor when I was writing 'Managing at the Speed of Change' back in the early 90s and I heard Dan's story. Dan was on a burning oil rig on the North Sea and I was fascinated by his choice to jump 15 stories into freezing water where he might live 20 minutes before hypothermia killed him. If he stayed on the rig, he would have certainly burnt to death.

They've interpreted this story to mean that successful change is based on creating the fear of death in an organisation. This is wrong. It is not why I chose this story,' continued Daryl, 'It's about the need for serious commitment."

Fear is not the answer ~ Daryl Conner

For those leading change, leading projects or leading teams, the use of fear undermines success. Neuroscience is explicit about the impact of fear on performance. It reduces innovation, it degrades decision making, it distracts people from the goal. Using fear to trigger flight or fight certainly gets action, simply not action in the direction you want.

Commitment to a goal is a different question as any athlete, dieter, writer, or great leader tells.

It takes:

§         A willingness to let go of the past

§         A desire, a deep desire to move forward

§         Space to act.

Success takes more than fire, it takes desire.

Based on Insights for Success 2012: Projects, Programs and Portfolios. Joanne Flinn is the author of 'The Success Healthcheck for IT Projects' (Wiley 2010) and can be reached personally at


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