In my previous blog I discussed the post-Katrina failure scenario in terms of a lack of entrepeneurial thinking and improvisation, as well as an over-reliance on command-and-control. All of these are organizational issues that have business implications.
It now appears that the shining exception to this institutional collapse was the Coast Guard. As the Washington Times editorialized, "The Coast Guard faced many of the same challenges as other government agencies...and yet it was able to outperform all of them."
Why? How did they know which houses had people trapped in attics. "In part, the Guard improvised. Crews would turn the motors off their skiffs to hear if people were trapped inside their homes." As Rob Wyman, an information officer for the Coast Guard put it, "We're flexible, we'll modify and we'll do whatever we can to help people in need."
Importantly, the Washington Times notes that the Coast Guard has a degree of independence from the Department of Homeland Security, which gave operational commanders on the field more autonomy.
It's also a matter of training. "Each individual Coast Guard member is highly versatile, having been trained in a wide range of functions."
Independence, versatiity, strategic improvisation. They worked in New Orleans, and they can work across American business, too. If only we cultivate these virtues and let them bloom.