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Burning Platform

Speaking of burning, earlier this year there was a leaked internal memo by Nokia CEO Stephen Elop that has never left me.

He begins it with a story,

There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion, which suddenly set his entire oil platform on fire. In mere moments, he was surrounded by flames. Through the smoke and heat, he barely made his way out of the chaos to the platform’s edge. When he looked down over the edge, all he could see were the dark, cold, foreboding Atlantic waters.

As the fire approached him, the man had mere seconds to react. He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice.

He decided to jump. It was unexpected. In ordinary circumstances, the man would never consider plunging into icy waters. But these were not ordinary times – his platform was on fire. The man survived the fall and the waters. After he was rescued, he noted that a “burning platform” caused a radical change in his behaviour.

Tech geeks will know that Nokia’s once dominance in the mobile space has been decimated by Apple in the high end and Android in the low end of the market. This letter was Nokia’s CEO acknowledging the hard truth of having fire coming from all sides and standing on a ‘burning platform’.

I greatly admire those who slug it out especially when the going gets tough. However it takes huge guts to acknowledge that everything you’ve worked so hard for has no future. ie. You placed your bets wrong; you’ve wasted a chunk of your life; you’ve possibly even lived a lie. It could be a career, a project, a relationship, a religion.

What does it take to gain a type of clarity that counters everything you’ve envisioned in the past? What does it take to realize you’ve built an empire of dirt?

Jumping off the platform may seem like failure – but the greater failure would be ending your life feeling like you were stuck on a train you could have got off of at any time.

Have you ever been on a burning platform? How do you know when you should simply push through what Seth Godin calls the dip? How do you know when it’s time to jump out into the deep unknown?

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