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Citroën's Active Safety or how to help companies accelerate safely

My grandfather was a fan of Citroën, (the stylish French car company) and its DS model (a visionary masterpiece) in particular. He liked its sleek, elegant, tapered, almost timeless look that set it apart from other square bodies.

"DS" is pronounced in French as "Déesse" which translates to ‘Goddess’ in the French language. But he didn't like his DS only for its appearance. He liked it for the feeling of security it gave him. "Citroën has saved my life several times! " he said at many Sunday family dinners, a surprising tirade because he never had an accident.

He loved it because he felt at peace with himself at the wheel; he was in the 'here and now'; he was simply himself. I can almost imagine him sing "With you, I am me," every time he lit the spark plugs of the humming engine with a turn of the key. I called him ‘Pépé (Grandpa in French)’ and he looked like Kirk Douglas with a strong heart and great love for rugby and opera.

Yet, he wasn't a macho domineering driver who wanted to tame horses under the hood. He drove his ‘goddess’ in a more sentimental way: with grace and lightness. He was really in love. His affection was not a passing fancy and his attachment was deep. If he had been a demigod to match his goddess, this would have been a divine love story. But, anyway, his one sided love affair with his DS was passionate and unflinching.

My patriarch grandfather, although not a fan of patriarchy, always bought Citroëns. His friends, concerned for his safety would say, "But why not a Volvo, they're real tanks! After all, Volvo is the car for the patriarch. "No, because the Citroëns have the best active safety; the Volvos are only about passive safety and I'm not a passive person in this existence," he would quip back.

This revelation comes to me today, that there are two very different types of safety features and that this distinction is very useful in helping companies move swiftly and safely on roads that will be more twisty and dangerous tomorrow than they were yesterday. The active safety of our cars is the only thing that keeps us from having an accident. The vehicle suspension system sticks the car to the road, ABS prevents wheels from locking up, ESP corrects the trajectory of the vehicle if a skid occurs, traction control helps not slip even when the car slides and a large torque is able to accelerate at the right time!

Passive safety is the one that protects us ...after an accident. The solidity of the car’s bodywork and the passenger compartment that sacrifice themselves, save our lives, the airbags absorb shocks before they happen, and the seatbelt sticks to the seat during a crash which is not a crash test

This distinction also exists in nature: to vertebrate species, the safety of an active spine provides agility (and even elegance); to insects, the passive shell protects from the shocks and hard knocks from outside. But, one safety feature cannot be sacrificed for the other. Without active safety, one would rather not drive a vehicle and without passive safety, there would probably be serious consequences. The best kind of safety is a combination of both.

Companies rarely forget to develop their passive safety. They armour their shell by increasing their equity capital and prepare safety nets by covering themselves with their critical risks. All of this is useful on the day of the accident to 'cushion' the impact, if, like an airbag, everything works as planned. It works if insurers honour their commitments without deflecting and safe havens such as real estate, gold and yen do indeed attract investors like a port that attracts sailboats by storm warning.

Active safety deserves more attention because it is more discreet and (like health prevention) has the thankless role. Its greatest achievement is to be forgotten to the point where you end up believing it doesn't exist! It has another advantage that is often underestimated - it allows us to accelerate. When there is a need to accelerate at strategic hairbends, one needs assured contact with the road surface. In addition to active safety features, the increase in passive safety features or the number of shells and armour to "face" all the risks has considerably increased the weight and complexity of companies (cf the article on cost cutting with maria sharapova).

Contrary to the automobile, a company's active safety is not a part that is added or patented, but capabilities that are developed within the company. Its ability to coordinate, cooperate, transform or bounce back is critical. It is also the blind confidence in the fact that this capability does not fail when the time comes; an ABS that does not work when you need it is much more dangerous than not having it.

These seemingly inconsequential capacities are very real: know-how, experience curves, resilience - what we strangely call human 'capital' and what is actually human 'flow'. Human potential and relationships are subject to all sorts of tests and they are not like a stock that accumulates.

A Sentimental Enterprise is steeped in this type of security. Its characteristics are a strong feeling of belonging to the company, trust between people and partners, solidarity among colleagues, consideration for stakeholders, a feeling of esteem for its competitors and last but not least the "active" and contagious composure of its leaders and managers.

This active security is all that makes you feel like you are part of your company, going beyond having an employment contract or monthly pay slip. It makes the difference between ‘Being’ in versus ‘Having’ more. It generates an immaterial asset that cannot be bought off the shelf, needs some silver but is worth gold.

To all those who are interested and wondering what to do now, we suggest "just do it" with a list of useful and effective actions, something like the below mentioned:

  • Develop ‘serene’ leaders by developing your cognitive flexibility

  • Give more torque to the engine of your company by encouraging and enhancing the value of working as a ‘couple’. Build couples between your goalscorers and passers-by, and between drivers and co-drivers; their blind mutual trust is a fatal weapon. Two team-players always beat the best soloist in the field of business as well as sport.

  • Detect your blind spots by increasing the diversity in your team, looking for new colleagues who have different values, culture, experiences than you so that he/she will see what you don't see.

  • Detect obstacles on the horizon by taking a step back and heightening your view of situations; put down the map to look underneath.

  • Stay on course, even without GPS by explaining the purpose of your trip, the "in the name of what" and the "for what". You are making certain choices as the CEO of Facebook could have done in front of the Congress.

  • The milestones every quarter are important but the finality on the horizon is what gives meaning to the daily challenges. And this meaning is why I, you, he, us and, they get up in the morning.

  • Better control the trajectory in difficult moments by trusting your teams, encouraging their creativity and cooperation between them.

Following the example of Citroën's highly pioneering corporate culture in the field of active safety, develop your own! Impossibilities such as combining safety and speed, frugality and power will thus become a reality. To all lovers of cars that are more pioneering than polluting, continue to develop active safety that is useful to our society in the making.

Sentimentally yours

Ludovic and Priya


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