Lessons Learned From A Train Wreck

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Why doesn’t a train provide seat-belts?

I asked myself that question when I found none in my train heading back to Yaounde,  I just said a prayer and fell asleep. Awakened, I ran a Google searchand the best answers came from my English friends.

Let them sort out the essentials, like cold beer, before demanding luxuries.
William Barrett, London, UK

Because as 90 per cent of all commuters have to stand due to overcrowding, it would seem a massive expense for only ten per cent of the travelling public.
Jon Trussler, St Albans, England


Despite the recent bad publicity, train crashes are very rare events. Typically 10 people a day die on the roads and there are about 100 road accident related injuries a day. On the railways in many years less than 10 passengers are killed in a year. Also because of the large momentum of trains the decelleration in a crash is less than with a car so although people are thrown about inside the carriage in rail accidents, the injuries they suffer tend not to be as horrendous.

John Miles, Cardiff UK


Very rare events…unfortunately this time was big time: the train -the same I took the day before- just crashed!

Cameroon is in the international news: “Please Lord, help this country to change, help us to change, make a change!” a survivor screamed at the medias. Death toll: 70 dead and counting, over 600 injured.

I deeply love Africa and my country, but I must admit: It’s hearthbreaking. You can feel it: people are tired and frustrated. We pray -really hard- here everyday but apparently not hard enough. Bollore, the french company owning the rolling stock “Camrail” is learning its business fundamentals the hard way.

How your company can learn from this failure? This is what we are going to discuss today.

Monopoly game is an illusion and can backfire
Cameroon is the country of “one”: one telecommunication provider, one airline carrier, one energy provider with no solar panel solutions -where the sun is beating like crazy 24/7-, one road between two big capitals, one to take you from your home to work, one train, one railroad… you got it. Don’t you think that in a country of 23 million people, “one” is a very bad number? Consequences: high prices, crippled services and products, bad customer service and quality.

Plan ahead or face the domino effect
The road linking Douala to Yaounde is the most dangerous in the country. It’s narrow, full of turns -with drivers gladly overtaking others-, hardly maintained, no rest areas, no emergency phones, the list goes on. But Nature like to kindly remind us our life support condition in this country, so it did cast the night before the accident an heavy storm that caused a bridge to collapse, dividing the road in the process. When you can’t take the road you hit the train, and when the train can’t be overloaded for security reasons, no one cares! We’ll gladly double the -cheap- wagons we have in stock for you. Thanks for your money.
Change: Keep greediness at bay, invest in solutions that will make your customers’ life easier tomorrow.

The power of communication & social media
Everybody has a smartphone. This should be the first thought running in an entrepreneur’s mind before tackling a business plan. The first one a Transport Minister should think about before going live. You can’t keep people from talking, you can’t just say that nothing happened and keep calm when people are recording and shooting people getting out of a train wreck like zombies, whatsapping about it. A rap song got even released the same day and went viral.
Change: the impact of words, images, videos, music is powerful.

Misperceived value and the power of caring
It’s just a plane, a train, a bus, a logo, a website, a video, an event…. why shall we care? “Just” give them -the customers- the bare necessities, the essentials. Big issues will never happen and they don’t care. Bad news: sh*t always happen and people do care!
Change: If you are in the game for the long run and trying to leave a strong company culture that will thrive without you, it’s time to act different: turn the “it’s just a __________” sentence into “it’s MORE than just a ______” this is where your strong value proposition reside. If you belittle your business value, how do you expect your future customers not doing the same?

A good business is supposed to care for its customers’ satisfaction and well being. That means avoiding shortcuts, not downplaying the huge importance of maintenance and having strong security policies. Putting hardly maintained wagons in circulation is pure madness. Running a cracked Windows version on all your organization’s desktops can cause the shutdown of your website and cost you! Buying a cheap identity because you “just” need it for your business cards to end up finding out that your competitor got the same logo [or way better.] or getting a lawsuit, can cost you! Trying to cut your promotional video lenght and you ended up with an inefficient, distorted and complex message.
Change: care for your audience, they deserve it.

Take full responsibility and apologise
Don’t blame others and call your business partners/team out. If something happens in your shop, under your watch, you are responsible. Especially if you are in a strategic position. 
Assess the problem right away
: communication, communication and communication. Camrail’s facebook got flooded by bad comments, they did reply but to a very few of them, which made the situation worse. We all fail, but facing failure “I’m sorry” are your best words. Learning  from your mistakes and promise to do better/plan ahead next time. You are in trouble when the same situation happens over and over again and you just feel “okay” about it.

Cheap behaviour is a global trend and it’s running very strong in Africa. Organizations, startups, entrepreneurs are always seeking solutions about how to minimise the costs, maximise the profits and they ALSO hope to provide/get quality. But what to do when this state of mind -melt with high corruption practices- is pushed to the extremes in places where the population’s welfare is jeopardized? 

IT’S REALLY TIME FOR A CHANGE!

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