Why I Would (Still) Get on the Titanic Sub
Disclaimer: this article is a thought exercise and not a commentary on those who tragically perished on the OceanGate sub. For the deceased, may they rest in peace.
You've heard the news - five billionaires wanted to see the Titanic wreckage up close. They found a company called OceanGate, who rented them a minivan-sized submersible vessel called Titan, and dove 13,000 feet toward the ocean floor. A mechanical malfunction occurred; their vessel imploded under the immense deep ocean water pressure, marking the end of a tragic story. In a way, they wanted to witness the Titanic legacy, but ended up adding to it, both literally and metaphorically.
Now, this story is like the Perfect Storm and Malaysian Airline 370 had a dwarf baby. It's being discussed 24/7 by all news networks. Amid all the chatter about wealth and class, human follies, business, morality and material science, one question that popped into my mind - knowing everything we know now, would I (still) want to get into a submersible vessel like that?
After some consideration, I’ve come to my conclusion: YES, I would! But with some conditions.
You might be asking: are you having a stroke? Should I call the nearest mental hospital for you? There's no way in hell anyone in their right mind would still want to do something like that. Why not stick your head into the burning lava? It might be less terrifying.
Well, I did say there are some conditions. Here they are:
1. I would really, really, REALLY care about seeing the Titanic up close. In my case, I don’t care about it at all. But for argument’s sake, let’s say it’s something I deeply care about. Let's pretend I grew up watching the Titanic film, my immediate reactions were not:
Don’t throw the diamond in the ocean, Rose, you idiot! Sell it and use the money to build a foundation named after Jack. You can cure cancer or prevent Covid!
Can I use Rejection-proof principles to convince the sailors to save more people with their lifeboats?
Instead, it was:
This is so cool! I need to see the Titanic myself! Up close! I need to see Jack’s body. I need to hear the ghosts of the three violinists playing "Nearer My God to Thee" when I’m inside the wreckage!
2. Someone would need to pay $250,000 for me. I’m sorry, I can’t afford to throw that type of money around. But let’s pretend someone is willing to pony up on my behalf and dare me to risk becoming pressurized fish food.
3. They would need to learn from the incident and fix whatever mechanical error they had with their vessels. The new vessel needs to be improved and tested, and proven to be safe.
4. The new vessel cannot be named Titan. Call the sub Milk Toast, Sad Sausage, or Ingrown Toenail. I don’t care. But I’m not going into a boat called Titan to see a sunken ship called Titanic. It’s like getting on a hot air balloon called Hindi Burger, or building a nuclear plant called Chernobio. I’m just not doing it.
Now we’ve established some conditions, I’ll give you three reasons why I would still get in a submersible vessel like the Titan.
1. I am almost guaranteed to be OK - anytime you see a sensational story like this, whether it’s Malaysian Airline MH370 disappearing without a trace, or a shark attack that killed some surfer off the coast of Australia, you will see mass hysteria. People would refuse to get on airplanes or be close to the beach for fear that they are next. But statistically speaking, you are much, much more likely to die in a trip-and-fall (1 in 127), a car accident (1 in 114), or a dog attack (1 in 112K) than in a plane crash (1 in 11 million) or from being eaten by sharks (1 in 3.7M).
Yet, the news headline makes us feel it’s a coin flip whether we are going to be the next victim. It makes us throw all rationale out of the window, and avoid relatively safe action. However, we don’t stop walking, driving cars, or getting near dogs due to fear, because none of these deaths drive international sensation and hysteria.
When it comes to this submersible expedition, its operating company - OceanGate, has carried out over 200 dives with its three submersible vessels. There's no known number of how many companies like OceanGate exist around the world, but according to report, there might be a handful, with companies from France, Russia, the United States, and China. Let’s be very cautious with assumptions, and say OceanGate has conducted half of all such commercial deep ocean dives in human history. That’s 400 trips like this.
How many deadly, sensational, and nightmarish catastrophes have we heard? One! (If there were more, we would have for sure heard it by now). So the chance of dying in an event like this is 1 in over 400, which is still a lot less than a trip-and-fall or a car accident.
Now in reality, I bet there are way more than 400 such dives in history, so the chances might be a lot smaller than that.
All is to say, statistically speaking, it’s actually pretty safe. You might die, but probably not, just like when you buy a car.
2. The world rewards massive action takers - in assumption #1, I have already established the hypothetical scenario that I care deeply about seeing the Titanic. If that were really the case, it’s absolutely worth it. To better illustrate this, let me shift my example, and let’s say I’m doing it for a cause I am truly passionate about, whether it’s for an entrepreneurial cause, to save my family’s lives, or for my faith, I am absolutely willing to take decisive actions to achieve it.
If there is one thing for sure in life, it’s that we are all going to die one day. Most people die after a slow, run-of-the-mill, and passionless life. However, even if you were one of the lucky ones and have established a mission you sincerely care about, most people would still not take actions, in the name of being “safe and steady”.
The reality is, the world rewards massive action takers (notice I said “action-taker”, not “risk-taker”. I’ll explain later in #3). To be able to accomplish anything impactful and worth remembering, you have to get out of your comfort zone, often repeatedly in order to make it happen. Sometimes you have to climb into a rocket headed to space, or a submarine headed for deep oceans, or drop out of college or quit your job to start your business. You will not path-of-least-resistance your way into success.
3. The world also rewards risk-managers - during an interview with Alex Honnold, the professional rock climber who was the first ever to conquer the famed El Capitan without aid or safety measures, he mentioned something interesting - “I don’t think I’m taking a risk because I’m not going to fall. But there is an extreme consequence if I make a mistake.”
This has always stuck with me. Through countless practice and rehearsal, Honnold has mastered the craft so well that he has lowered the risks of making mistakes to an extremely low degree. In a way, instead of calling him a risk-taker, brave, or a daredevil, we might as well call him a world-class risk manager.
Everything we do takes risks. Most people either excessively overrate the risk and result in not taking actions, or underrate risks and take unnecessary actions. The most successful people take calculated risks. Some of them lower the risk to a degree that the reward vastly outweighs the risks.
When I quit my job ten years ago to pursue entrepreneurship, most of my colleagues thought I was out of my mind for taking such high risks. After putting my emotions aside, I thought “what risk?”
My downside was that I would give up a steady income for a few months, or maybe a year. But I already had some savings to make sure we wouldn’t go broke in those periods. I wouldn’t take on additional debt. If I failed, I would just look for a job again. What risk?
My upside? Pursuing a dream I’ve always wanted; having the chance of great financial success; and setting me up on a life that fits my mission.
Now ten years later, that risk-reward calculation rewarded me with things that are beyond my imagination.
Now, going back to the submersibles - the risk of failure is indeed catastrophic. On the other hand, the upside is also extremely high (as I’ve established in my assumption in condition #1). In the chance of 399 out of 400 to win such a rich reward, I am going to take that bet, every time!
How does this apply to you?
OK, I am not advocating you book the next expedition with OceanGate. If you do, it’s your own decision.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if OceanGate goes bankrupt after such a disaster, and the entire commercial ocean-diving industry goes into hibernation for a couple of years. You might not be able to book it even if you wanted to.
What I am saying is: we are all going to die someday, whether it’s on a deathbed with tubes coming in and out of us, or in some extremely unlikely event. But don’t let excessive fear and news headlines dictate what you should and should not do in life. Be a mission-pursuer, be an action-taker, and be a risk-manager. If you believe in what you are doing but can also minimize the downside, go after what’s meaningful to you. Go ahead and take actions to pursue your mission.