Thursday, 29 October 2009

What are you racing for? Why?

Last weekend we had perhaps the best Coastal Classic Yacht Race ever: fine, 20-28 knots SW; we averaged 7.3 knots peaking at 12.2 surfing the following sea towards the Hen and Chicks, dropping to zero at Cape Brett around midnight.

12.2 knots (22.5 km/hr) may seem kind of slow. But for a 29’ (8.8m) Wagstaff designed, GRP skinned timber sloop High Spirits, that’s a cracking pace with her gear loaded to the max: her gennaker sheet so tight it’s plinking at the winch like ukulele string; the helmsman pumping for 1.5 minute rides on following waves.

After dark, still doing 8 knots, cans of Red Bull keep us awake and slugs of Old Brown sherry straight from the bottle stave off the pre-dawn cold; the coastal skyline silhouetted by sickle moon in cloudless sky.

16 hrs 22 minutes without sleep to cover that 118 nm, finishing mid-fleet (16th) in Division 4; equivalent to 6th amongst our peers in Division 5.

At 4am, anchored and snacked, we fall asleep on the sails below in our full wet weather gear and boots, waking at 7 to thaw out in the morning sun.

Did we achieve our goal? Damn right we did. We pushed little High Spirits to her limits; adapting rapidly to the unexpected, without injury other than bruises, without damage other than a few near shredded lines, to achieve a respectable result amongst her peers.

Best of all, we were in it together relishing the feel of that little boat straining and surging in the stiff breeze, and silently slipping in light airs, finally savouring completion and sweet reunion with shore-crew partners and friends at beautiful Russell in the Bay of Islands.

IMG_0113Sailing & shore crews enjoy sunset BBQ at an early settler cottage Russell, Bay of Islands NZ

It was a race for friendship, courage, for companionship, collaboration and community; a race to live: a race against complacency, predictability, and the ordinary.

What are you racing for? Why?

Monday, 19 October 2009

The power of really being in it together

Why would anyone choose the most uncomfortable sleepless way to travel?

I ought to know because that’s what I and maybe a thousand others are doing this weekend in the Coastal Classic (an overnight coastal sailboat race from Auckland to Russell in the Bay of Islands  New Zealand).

I’m crewing on the precocious 29 foot sloop High Spirits. We’ll be awake for between 16 and 20 hours sailing hard all day and through the night, sleeping tethered on the rail to add our weight to windward.

The last couple of times I sailed this race on a 50 footer in three watches – actually slept in a bunk for four hours. Last year the weather was atrocious and half the fleet of a couple of hundred craft turned back. Everyone was seasick.

Nevertheless this year I turned down a berth of the 50 footer for more  risk and more discomfort!

It just goes to show what some people will do for a challenge: together pitting themselves against the elements; the chance of winning (even with a tough handicap).

The crew have been sailing together all winter and invested in extra safety equipment and gear. We each have our roles and they overlap. We’re dependent on each other for our safety and for success. 

Yet many business managers persistently assume that money is the main motivator and people do nothing unless pushed.

Never underestimate the human imperative to do  good things together.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Wonky-shots and staplers of the mind

Henry my architect friend, in exploring my iPhone camera, inadvertently captures two partially obscured, wonky images of himself. Then ‘working with what he got’ he abstracts the images with provocative effect.

It occurs to me that his using these “accidental” images is thinking entrepreneurially: trying out new things for unexpected effect. Then taking the effect to another level by imaginatively working with what he’s got.

This is so different to what's taught and assessed in schools: beginning with the specified result figure out causative chain that produced it; understand, document, standardise and learn it then organise a linear process to reliably replicate it.

The latter approach (linear causal thinking) is the world of the stapler, the folder and the file. For more on that try Your Stapler is Making Assumptions: about how the objects and designs around us represent and determine our logic.

In most of the business contexts that I work in, the stapler reigns. Especially amongst the educated. In contrast the entrepreneurs probably succeeded at being ejected from school: avoiding being conventionally schooled. 

No wonder it’s so difficult to get employees to think like businesspeople: way more fundamental than “getting buy-in”. It’s about food for thought: a diet of wonky-shots instead of staplers for the mind.

That prompts a little spur-of-the-moment poem:

Staple diet.

I feel so much better

When I’ve followed to the letter

The procedures that I learned

At school


When the information

Is properly tabulated

The pages neatly stapled

And filed


When I’ve aligned my goals

With my grandest aspirations

Stapled them in A3 to

The wall


Then all I need’s a job

With the incumbent tasks prescribed

And a clear secure route to

The top.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Learn fast: things aren’t (ever) returning to “normal”.

New Zealand business managers and educators have got to transform their thinking and practice or NZ can say goodbye to “high” living standards: already down to 23rd in the OECD and in imminent danger of being overtaken by Czechoslovakia.

That was the main message I took from National Bank (NZ) Chief Economist Cameron Bagrey’s lunchtime address last Tuesday to the national conference of New Zealand Applied Business educators. They’re tertiary (but not university) educators on undergraduate Applied Business diploma and Applied Business degree programmes. I sneaked in on the coattails of my wife Sandra Barnett, an innovator and author in Applied Business education (Communication).

Bagrey confessed he’s embarrassed that his profession’s consistently got it wrong: failed to predict the current recession and doesn’t have a clue how to fix.

He says only one thing’s for certain: we can’t go back to the way it was. Anyone who thinks that things will return to “normal” is stupid. The policy makers are determined it won’t; determined we figure out new ways to do, manage and teach business and the economy. Previous answers are wrong.

He didn’t have new answers except to say that boiled down, it’s the responsibility of individuals to generate and implement new ways. He didn’t have any special advice for business educators.

I agree with Bagrey that the solution lies with individuals, though I add: individuals in collaboration not isolation, generating and learning new ways together.

I seriously doubt NZ Business Education can change from its prescriptive right-answer model any time soon, hobbled as it is by administrators and their anti-professional, centralised rules and controls, and know-no-better student and employer market.

I’m sceptical too that NZ business managers can abandon their manager-knows-best, right-answer approach any time soon: go deeper than recite the superficial lists of “secrets” peddled in popular business management literature.

Actually the answers have been there for more than 20 years (e.g. Drucker and Senge), effectively ignored: except perhaps in Business student essays and Management band-aids, quick fixes, and fads.

Here’s the guts: (really) involve everyone; confess ignorance (starting at the top); spend time together generating a long term goal that everyone’s passionate about but not sure how to achieve; get very clear on the medium term strategy and short term goals that stand to take you towards the long term; openly generate and agree clear individual and collective accountabilities in achieving the change; openly measure progress to keep individuals and groups (at all levels) openly accountable for their contribution; continually review and revise in the light of individual and collective experience; take every opportunity to talk about the long term goal and the actual action and progress towards it.

And another thing: get long-term (2 yr) outside help from experienced change execution specialists. Be sure that they too are accountable for progress.