The Burning Platform

Picture the scene.

You’re on an oil platform in the North Sea.

One night, you’re awakened by an explosion and you run outside to see what has happened. You are met by an aggressive fire that is sweeping the platform, engulfing every inch and backing you into a corner.


Your choices?

       1.       Remain on the platform and be burned alive

       2.       Jump more than 100 ft into the freezing North Atlantic waters, where if the jump doesn’t kill you, the freezing waters will kill you within minutes if not rescued.

What would you do?


My bet is that you would jump from the platform.

And you wouldn’t be alone – this theory is based on the true story of a man who did indeed jump, surviving with the philosophy “probable death is better than certain death”.

The moral of this story: it often takes an extreme situation to cause a major change in behaviour. In day to day life, change can be VERY hard for people. All too often, people remain in their habitual comfort zones – until their survival instinct kicks in.

We see this in Market Research all the time.

Firstly, when speaking to participants

“I just buy what I always buy”

“It’s just easier to keep doing the same thing”

“I want to eat healthier, but it’s too hard”

Secondly (but perhaps less explicitly) we see it in businesses

If you work in research or insight (agency or client side) ask yourself this question - have you ever delivered a presentation where the same insights kept cropping up, but nothing was being done about them? Or have you ever seen trends in the data that you didn’t like the look of, but struggled to make others see them or act upon them?

There may be an innate human reason for this.

Confirmation bias teaches us that people tend to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. In other words, they can look for the story they WANT or EXPECT to see. Businesses can therefore fall into a complacency trap, particularly if they are doing well or experiencing high growth. By finding a ‘burning platform’, this can help drive home the need for change.

To put this in a ‘real life’ context, the Nokia CEO Stephen Elop spoke about this in his memo;

We too, are standing on a "burning platform," and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

Over the past few months, I've shared with you what I've heard from our shareholders, operators, developers, suppliers and from you. Today, I'm going to share what I've learned and what I have come to believe.

I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform.

And, we have more than one explosion - we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.”

He went on to speak about the intense heat coming from competitors. Apple had redefined the smartphone, created a very powerful ecosystem and was leading the high-end range. Whilst Android, was winning the mid-range, Google were using innovation at its core and MediaTek was taking shares in the low-end range. What were Nokia doing?

“Nokia, our platform is burning”

Unfortunately, this revelation was a little too late for Nokia.

Arguably, one of the hardest things to do within research and insight is to convince those who can make changes happen. The reality is that sometimes, change needs to be radical, costly and risky - and this is a VERY scary thought!

Finding a ‘burning platform’ can make people stand up and listen, but it needs to convey a sense of urgency that allows your audience to gaze into a future which is in crisis. What happens if we do nothing? What happens if we act now?


Market Research makes it possible to put these fires out before they spread - which is a beautiful position to be in and highlights just how important our industry is.

So next time you’re delivering, reading or listening to insight, think of Stephen Elop.

Think of Nokia.

Take a look at your platform in the North Sea.

Is it burning?


Lauren Elliott - Associate Director 

Chris Handford