Compromise Doesn't Always Come Cheap

Joe Weinlick
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As you look to grow your company's market share, revenue and profits, don't forget to take into account the cost of compromise. In this case, compromise doesn't mean finding middle ground on some divisive issue. Instead, compromise means compromising some key aspect of your company's way of doing business in the name of money.

Space Shuttle Example

The space shuttle serves as an example of the high cost of compromise, according to leadership expert Rodger Dean Duncan. On Feb. 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry due to a puncture in the heat shield that protected the spacecraft from the massive amounts of heat produced when coming back into the atmosphere. An investigative board found two main causes for puncture.

The technical cause came from a piece of insulating foam that broke off from the external fuel tank as the shuttle lifted off into space 16 days before the accident. A video of the launch shows a piece of the foam striking the left wing of the shuttle at a high rate of speed. Although the foam is relatively lightweight, because it struck the shuttle's wing with such force it punctured a hole in the ceramic tiles that served as the shuttle's heat shield.

The organizational cause of the shuttle accident was due to a failure on the part of the shuttle program's leadership.

Normalized Deviance

Normalized deviance came into play as a high cost of compromise in the disaster. This concept refers to accepting something within tolerable limits. Engineers and shuttle program leaders knew about falling foam before. However, they accepted it as something within normal limits of the shuttle's operation. Falling foam was something engineers called "outside of specifications" for the shuttle because it was simply accepted as a fact that the foam falls and it's there. The falling foam was a necessary thing, but it cost the lives of seven astronauts.

Cost of Compromise Lesson

The lesson about the cost of compromise can translate to the business world. Shuttle designers, not once but twice, dealt with organizational problems that caused disasters. In 1986, space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch when an O-ring leaked on a booster rocket and the assembly rapidly fell apart.

From the Columbia disaster, program leaders compromised the morals of engineers who saw foam falling on every launch and felt something should be done differently before the foam caused a problem. However, since the foam didn't cause a problem 113 times before Columbia, why wouldn't it be a problem on the 114th time?

This is the same problem that some companies fall into time and again. Just because something didn't go wrong with a company's way of doing things, even though it was less than ideal and leaders knew it, several times before that doesn't follow that things stay that way in the future. Your automated phone systems and saying "have a nice day" to customers may have worked for customer service before, but what happens if these generally accepted ways of interacting cost your company many customers over time?

The point of the high cost of compromise is to note that dangerous circumstances can occur when you choose to compromise your moral fiber for your business. Ask yourself if compromising is really worth it before proceeding with an important decision.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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