Hurricane Michael wreaked havoc on Florida’s Gulf Coast, wiping out almost every structure in places like Mexico Beach. Left standing among the ruins was one house, the “Sand Palace.” It had been designed to survive the big one. Learn from that design and make sure your organization is fit for your environment, has a strong foundation and fundamentals, and passes the cookie test.

As described in Architizer, the owners and architects of the Sand Palace made more expensive and less convenient design choices that made the house capable of withstanding Michael’s fury as all around it failed.

Fit for environment

    • The house was raised on stilts so that storm surge could pass underneath.
    • The stairway from the ground to the first floor and its surrounding walls were designed to break away in a surge without causing collateral damage.

Strong foundation and fundamentals

  • The building sits atop pilings that are 40 feet deep.
  • Walls were made of poured reinforced concrete.
  • Steel cables travel from the girders above the pilings though the roof and continue down the back wall.

Passing the cookie test – choosing survivability over immediate gratification

  • A proposed balcony on the east wall was removed at the design stage.
  • Some proposed windows were replaced with concrete.
  • The roof overhang was kept very small compared with adjacent properties.

The cookie test measures the differences between low delayers who choose to eat the one cookie given them immediately versus high delayers who choose the alternate option of waiting 15 minutes for two cookies. The applicability to your business is the choice between short term profit, speed, or expediency over longer term sustainability.

Fit for environment

Organizationally, you should certainly care about natural disasters. And you should care about the entire context for your operations across customers, collaborators, capabilities, competitors and conditions.

  • Customers: Design your organization outside-in, starting with customers’ needs. Make sure you are ready to meet their current needs and adapt to meet their future needs. Think about the first line customers you serve directly, their customer chain, end users, and influencers.
  • Collaborators are critical parts of your ecosystem. Understand your suppliers, allies, government/community leaders and how they might surprise you.
  • Capabilities: Make sure your human, operational, financial, and technical capabilities, and your key assets are always evolving to adapt to your changing context.
  • Competitors are the storm surges that can wipe you out if you’re not ready. Consider all of them, whether they are direct, indirect, or potential.
  • Conditions Monitor social/demographic, political/ government/ regulatory, economic, and market changes, continually asking what? So what? Now what? to stay ahead of the next storm.

Strong foundation and fundamentals


I’m tempted to leave this section as that. One word. Purpose. Those of you that get it can move on to the cookie test section. For the rest of you, by purpose I’m referring to the combination of mission, vision and values. This is the one thing the ultimate leader of any organization cannot delegate. You have to own this because it is the foundation for everything else. Strong, surviving organizations align their people, plans and practices around a shared purpose. Others do not.

  • Mission: Why we are here, why we exist, what business we are in.
  • Vision: Future picture—what we want to become, where we are going – in which others can envision themselves.
  • Values: The things you will not compromise on the way to delivering the mission and achieving the vision.

Get these right. They are your foundational fundamentals. Dig your pilings 40 feet deep if that’s what’s required to survive the big one.

The Cookie Test

Organizationally, the cookie test is an organization’s ability to pick, play out and stick to a single over-arching strategy. Picking one single strategy and aligning it with one culture, organization, and way of operating seems riskier than keeping options open. But choosing to be best in class at one thing versus good enough at many can be the difference between success and failure. Pick one. For more on this, read my earlier article, “What It Takes To Accelerate Through A Strategic Inflection Point.

The big one is coming. Make sure your organization is ready.