I was reading a book called "Being the Best" by Denis Waitley who researched the (supposedly real-life) origin of this saying, giving quite a different insight into its meaning..............
Back in the 1700's when sailing ships were prevalent, a young naval officer reaps the reward for solving a problem, but also pays a high price for creating the problem in the first place.
This young mans name was Ensign Noble and he was aboard the HMS Intrepid en route from England to the colonies.
Back then the colonists were rebellious and this Royal Navy ship was loaded with guns and ammunition including a large cannon for delivery to the proper authorities.
Two days into the trip they were headed into bad storm and needed to secure the huge cannon to the deck to prevent it from damaging the ship or falling overboard. The young naval officer Noble quickly secured the cannon while telling himself that "these ropes should hold it; It doesn't look like the storm is that bad anyway" - a patch up job at best.
He finished the job and went below deck. It was only a few minutes and the storm got much worse. The cannon came loose, and started moving around the deck, damaging the ship, and putting other crew members lives in danger. He leapt back on deck to see the cannon rolling to the port side and straight for two fellow sailors who were trying work the sails and stop them from ripping in the violent winds.
Without a moment's hesitation, Noble put himself in harms way by throwing himself in front of the cannon, somehow stopping its path and saving the two sailors from a messy end. Both his legs were broken under the weight of the cannon, but he had saved the day by literally throwing himself under the gun.
The next morning there was a ceremony in his honour to celebrate this act of bravery. The whole crew were present as Noble hobbled forward (supported by crutches on his two broken legs) as the Captain bestowed a medal of honour for the countries highest award of bravery. The crew cheered, but soon fell to absolute silence as the Captain finished his presentation by saying "For placing his ship and shipmates in dire peril and being guilty of dereliction of his duty, Ensign Noble is sentenced to death by firing squad, sentence to be carried out immediately".
Dennis Waitley concluded the following moral of the story: "That working hard even heroically to solve a problem is not to your credit if you created the problem in the first place".
I believe in second chances and I think most of us would agree that the Captain's punishment was severe considering Noble's heroic act.
However, storms come regardless of people's intentions and if the cannon is not secured, there will be a price to be paid by someone.
What "storms" could affect your business? External factors that you don't always have control over but have a choice as to how you react to them. Some you can see coming, others creep up on you or strike suddenly. It could be earthquake, recession, competitors' new products, a health or family crisis....... A good business needs to be positioned to weather whatever storms may come. With good systems in your business, you will at least have planned ahead and be better prepared for these eventualities.
What are the "loose cannons"? These are the internal factors that you do have some control over: Poor office procedures, a disruptive staff member that is influencing the others, customers not paying when they should, eroding margins, wrong kind of customers, unhappy and complaining customers........ The crucial matters that if allowed to get out of control can cause serious damage to your business!
If you put the right systems/procedures in place (ie tying down the ropes), you are on the way. And remember you can have the best systems in the world, but they will only work if they are followed. The Royal Navy had excellent procedures for tying down cannons, but our friend Noble did not follow them. I suspect this is why the Captain was so tough - because this situation should never have happened.
I encourage you to spend some time writing out your systems and procedures step by step, and making sure they are followed. Secure the "loose cannons" in your business. Follow through. Make sure everyone knows how to tie down the cannons properly, from management to the cleaner. Because if you are the only one who knows and you are caught in a storm, then you are in trouble.
The benefits of good systems are threefold:
- Your business will function much more efficiently day-to-day with happier staff and less headaches for you, freeing your time and ultimately giving you more profit.
- You can relax and not stress about "what if's" knowing that your business is in good shape if the waters get choppy.
- Your business will be ready to take advantage of good opportunities that come along - and do even better!