Business is a Breeze . . . Through a Sailor's Eyes
Written by B. R. Govan
Published December, 2002, Chamber Chatter
Chamber of Commerce of Greater West Chester Newsletter

Sailing, putting natural forces of wind and water to a planned purpose, can be viewed in parallel with business to provide greater insight into our business life. It is not a forced action, but one of ingenuity, flexibility, and determination. Sailing can be used as a metaphor to gain a new perspective.

Someone once described sailing as made up of one-third ecstasy, one-third boredom, and one-third abject terror. While the degree of terror, or perhaps better stated as fear of uncertainty, can vary between sailing and business, I believe we can improve upon those statistics by setting a course and taking action.

Sailing, as in business, is full of little details that can bog you down if the big picture is not kept foremost in mind. Many boats remain in endless preparation and never leave the dock. In business, obsessive attention to detail forestalls true progress. Sailboats come in all sizes and are designed for many different purposes. Those design differences are made up of a multitude of choices and compromises, just as are businesses. It is a vehicle used to reach a destination, just as a business is to its owner. It has to be maintained to retain its functionality and value, and can be improved to extend its reach.

In sailing, a float plan is created to plan and direct a voyage. In business, it is the business plan. They both convey a planned direction of action. In both sailing and business, having a crew (team) with the right skills and experience is critical to a successful voyage.

Setting sail can be likened to breaking new ground, as even sailing in familiar waters can bring new adventures. Wind is fluid, variable, and only slightly predictable - very much like the economy in which we live. Tides are cyclical, predicable changes that we must recognize and plan for to be successful. Consider aspects of your business that are reoccurring events. Currents equate to trends - in industry, the marketplace, and job markets for example. They are always there, under the surface, and difficult to run against for any length of time.

Depth equates to confidence - everyone is comfortable when it runs deep, and you get nowhere when there is not enough. There are always obstacles in the path - low visibility, rocks, reefs, and the like. Some are natural, some man-made. There are also many obstacles in the path of business success. Success comes from planning to avoid the obstacles we can predict and having the flexibility and confidence to handle those we can't. On the water, it is critical to think, then act, to avoid having small problems become major crises. That philosophy works equally well in both business and our personal lives.

We sail with many others on the water by respecting the "rules of the road" to avoid collisions. In business, we avoid collisions by building positive relationships and respecting others through our ethical behavior. Navigation basically consists of charting a safe course to a destination. It includes the ability to assess where you are along the route at any point in time. In business, we need to set goals and measure progress to them. The concept of taking fixes (identifying location on the water) and setting waypoints works equally as well both on and off the water to assess progress and alert us to needed adjustments for deviations from our goals.

We all have the power to cruise, race, or drift. In cruising and racing, we set a course and take actions to arrive at a destination varying only the speed and intensity of the voyage. If we lack planning and let external factors set our course and speed, we drift without direction or purpose.

As for improving those statistics, we can reduce fear of terror and uncertainty through planning and taking purposeful actions. We can reduce boredom through focusing on and doing those things that capture our attention and imagination, even if it means making changes to get there. That leaves the ecstasy component. We will leave that be, for as much as not messing with a good thing as recognition that it will automatically increase as we reduce the other two components. Easy? The devil is in the details, but don't worry about them, that's just the small stuff.

Bruce R. Govan, an avid sailor and consultant, helps businesses navigate rough waters of change through planning and purposeful action. For more information, visit, or contact him at 610-429-4490.

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