Go find the Goat!

2010-10-01 14:12
“Go and find the goat”!

In one of his books, Thomas Friedman tells this story: There is a community of Bedouins in the Desert – say Arabia. One fairly large family has a herd of goats and camels among their meager possessions. One morning, one of the Patriarch’s sons informs him that one of the goats is missing. The Patriarch exclaims, “Go and find the goat’!

The son and siblings, however, do nothing. Three days later, one of the camels is missing. Again the Patriarch exclaims, “Go and find the goat’!  And after another couple of days, another camel is missing. Again the Patriarch exclaims: “Go and find the goat’! The point the Patriarch is highlighting is that whatever the first behavior is, this sets the example and tone for subsequent behavior patterns. In other words, nobody did anything about the first missing goat and therefore the thieves said: “Ah, we can steal more as this family is not vigilant.’

Alternatively, the goat was simply lost but the siblings did nothing so when further losses occurred, the same replicated behavior occurred – they did nothing! The reason I relate this story is because after a recent presentation on the state of the transport industry with respect to insurance, one of the members of the audience made the comment that the presentation (mine) was very negative! I make no apologies for being a cynic – but I have a lot of respect for this individual who raised the point and thus we debated the topic maturely afterward. This was on 22nd September.

On 23rd September (public holiday), early morning, I drove past a taxi accident with many fatalities (if you want to verify, the event occurred past the Zambesi offramp in the Mamelodi direction). I had kids in the vehicle and unlike many of us who have become – dare I say it – numb to the occurrence of accidents, the kids were deeply affected and troubled by the incident.

On Saturday 24th September, early morning, we had another misfortune (same kids as passengers in my vehicle) of seeing a cyclist fatality on “Hendrik Potgieter’, below the wretched 4-way crossing going up to Krugersdorp. Again the kids were in trauma and I reiterate our sincere condolences to these peoples’ communities for both were taxi traffic transgressions! This article is not, however, about whacking taxis!!

My point is my meager distances of travel invariably mean we will often still witness results and examples of South Africa’s horrible accident and fatality statistics. So, you may well ask, why the narrative and the gory detail? In all honesty, this exactly replicates, in my opinion, the transport industry right now. We have so many fantastic “Patriarchs’ continuing the mantra of “do it properly’. We are, in fact, fortunate to have many of these “Patriarchs’ in our own businesses as clients and there are so many industry players replicating the message of discipline. But, out there, so much of the industry has so many “sons who don’t react or understand the first loss’.

This means we will continue to see a polarized industry with the “Good’ and the “Bad’ – those who want to change and walk the example contra to those who want to do nothing and are effectively happy with the status quo. It is with these few examples that I dwelt on the opinion of my negative presentation. The problem is: We are trying to be the Patriarch in the narrative.

In this sense, fix or do the first thing and the rest will follow. If you do it  positively, things will follow for the better. Do it negatively and this will, in all likelihood, develop into further loss or deterioration. Sometimes I believe the facts I state in my presentations don’t tell half the story but I always hope – and think – that we broadcast in transport terms the mantra to “Find the Goat’!

By Chris Barry, CEO of HCV Underwriting Management


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