On Sunday night, Uber’s driverless car testing program suffered its first major safety setback: a pedestrian was killed in a collision with a driverless Volvo in Uber’s testing program in Arizona. Now there is debate as to whether it was Uber’s fault. Still there are those who think one death is one too many and want to halt progress.
I’ve written before on why Uber’s work with Volvo is brilliant marketing. There have been accidents before, and just because there’s been a fatality doesn’t mean Uber and Volvo should abandon the work altogether. No one knows what the future will hold, but it still appears that driverless vehicles are the way of the future. By all accounts, the testing has been largely successful and productive, and Uber and Volvo are moving towards their plan of introducing driverless cars into their fleet in the near future. So as tragic as the death is, Uber shouldn’t abandon testing its pioneering technology over one fatality.
While not every business will encounter something as grave as a civilian death, the situation in general is applicable to other businesses. In the event of a major setback, tragedy, or public relations nightmare that impacts a long-term plan for the future, how does a business leader know when to stay the course and when to abandon ship?
Here are tips on navigating the stormy seas of long-term innovation:
1. Have a Plan Beforehand
If you’re not pre-prepared for a crisis, you’ve dug a hole for yourself before you’ve even begun. Anticipate what problems could arise during your research and plan for each of them. Think through as much as you can before anything happens.
2. Be Objective
Remove your personal feelings from the calculation. The decision needs to be dispassionate, not emotional. Don’t reveal your anger, and don’t let your passion for the project blind your view. Consider all sides of the argument and all viewpoints of your constituents and that of the public.
3. Maintain the Long View
Remember why you made this investment in the first place. Don’t allow the short-term public outcry to overwhelm your vision of the future. If the problem was unanticipated, consider whether and how this issue could arise again and how it would impact your prospects. If you knew the problem could arise, compare the reality with what you anticipated, and evaluate your plan going forward.
4. Don’t Play the Blame Game
One of the worst things any leader can do is to deflect responsibility. Acknowledge the impact of the situation and your company’s role in it. Have a plan for public outreach and demonstrate how your company will move forward.
5. Use the Opportunity
There’s a saying in public relations that all press is good press. Businesses should take the same view. If you have the public’s attention, even if it was initially for a bad reason, embrace it. Show the public what a great company you are.