Is your business ready for a shark attack?

Thoughts on companies that can adapt to unforeseen change — and those that can’t

Remember the scene in the movie “Jaws,” where the police chief was trying to close the beaches, but the mayor wouldn’t let him because the tourists wouldn’t come, and the Amityville businesses needed those tourist dollars? It begged the question, “How many fatalities is a good tourist season worth?”

Well, the drama is replaying itself on the southern shore of Cape Cod. A New York neurosurgeon was seriously hospitalized for weeks recovering from an attack. A few weeks later, a young man was fatally injured by a shark, and there have been a number of close calls and near misses.

When a shark is sighted, they close the beach for the rest of the day. What if no one sees it until it’s too late? They also advise people not to swim near seals, the sharks’ favorite delicacy. Interestingly, these two attacks occurred without any seals around. They’ve also posted “Swim at Your Own Risk” signs, but the safety response seems woefully inadequate.

Let’s bring this whole deal a little closer to home, as Cape Cod is almost the other side of the world for New Hampshire residents. Let’s say a sizable portion of the Cape seals population got sick of feeding the great white sharks off Monomoy Island and migrated north to Hampton Beach, just to make it more interesting. It’s not farfetched; there’s a colony of seals out at the Isles of Shoals.

Suppose you owned a hotel, restaurant, surf shop or other business at the beach. The presence of the seals and their ravenous pursuers would be likely to have an effect on your business, and it probably wouldn’t be a good one. Would you want the beaches closed?

After some number of fatalities, the public outcry would force the closure. What would you do?

I get a kick out of reading business plans that assume the world will run as planned. Sometimes we get surprises that are completely out of our span of control. Even so, the companies that survive such things know how to adapt and reinvent themselves. They know how to turn the problem into a benefit of some sort.

Maybe the whale watch boats could start doing shark watch cruises. Many beach vacationers don’t even go swimming, so they might still keep coming. If you have a hotel and no swimming pool, you might want to get one pronto for the swimmers that can no longer go in the ocean. If you have a restaurant, you might want to add shark fin soup or something like it to the menu, so we can start eating them.

Remember when Blackberries ruled the smartphone world? When is the last time you’ve seen one? Do you even know anyone that still uses one? The advent of the iPhone was like the sharks swimming off the coast, and those ubiquitous Blackberries disappeared overnight.

How about Eastman Kodak? They had the lion’s share of the world’s photography market until digital photography eliminated the need for film. What about all those developers and film processing shops that went out of business?

As long as we’re on the subject, remember Polaroid? Their film developed itself shortly after the picture was taken. Once again, digital photography was the shark that gobbled up that business.

We live in a changing world. Nothing stays the same, especially technology. Both Kodak and Polaroid had significant research and development efforts to constantly improve their products. Somebody else’s R&D eliminated the need for their products. They were at the top of their games when the bottom fell out, and they didn’t see it coming.

Some people and organizations are great at surviving such massive changes (e.g., Chrysler under Iacocca, IBM under Gerstner, Apple after Steve Jobs returned, etc.). The list of massive turnarounds is extensive, but not quite as extensive as the list of the folks who didn’t make it.

Which group would you like to join? What can you do to prepare yourself for the surprise shark attack? The right answer(s) can turn it into a blessing.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or