4 things I learn from sailing and how does it help me in my professional career
My two biggest confesable passions in life are technology and sailing (not necessary in this order). I am on the tech business industry for the last more than twenty years and at sea for nearly forty. Over the years, I've noticed that the skills that every good salesmen acquires at high seas are extremely helpful and provided me with some business crucial lessons I apply daily.
My passion for technology was innate due to - because of family traditions - my professional career should be spent in other sectors but my first job, back in 1993, was already related with telecoms and telcos. Since then, it has been a long and amazing trip deep into all types of customer projects, ITC Companies (as an employee, customer, provider or partner), sales and marketing operational responsibilities, innovation plans, culture change processes, customer service levels, team management roles, business plans, growth strategies, ... but the most important : a huge number of failures (and few success cases and recognitions). All this into a constantly changing, extremely technical and competitive market as is the Information Technology and Communications industry (also named "internet").
Sailing is another story. I still remember how I cried the first time my father let me alone alone at sea on a 7 ft. (2 mts.) boat with a square sail (Optimist) for my first sailing lessons when I was six years old, but very quickly I started to feel not that much bad there, alone and floating two nautical miles (NM) away from shore. Thus, and thanks to his blessed influence, I have now the opportunity of planning my next sailing journey for this year on which I expect to reach my first 20.000NM accumulated (always with Neptuno´s permission) sailing across a large number of seas: Atlántic, Caribbean, Adriatic, Ionian, Tyrrhenian, Aegean, Ligurian and Balearic. Even though I spent some years racing in different olympic classes and participating in a few international regattas (i.e.: I had the lucky to join the King of Spain racing sailboat crew -named Bribon - in 1989), what I really love is to sail and cruise for pleasure and I have been doing that as much as I could on sailing boats from 18 ft. (6 mts.) to 90 ft. (24 mts.), not only on my free time, but as a "way of life", sharing the adventure with my loved ones as well as alone since my childhood.
During the last weeks, working with the maps and GPS preparing the travel plan and all jobs that must be done in advance prior to every sailing trip, I realized that I will reach the milestone of 20.000NM sailed, and I thought that it was a good excuse to write my first post on LinkedIn, get a memory and share the- for me - valuable learns that mother nature teach me, as they have much to do with my business life.
This is the outcome of mixing real experiences at sea with my profession, that helps me on the difficult moments and going ahead with the day by day responsibilities that everyone has on their own lives.
1. KEEP CALM WHEN TROUBLE COMES
Yes, I know. It´s easy to say and looks like a topic. But in all business there is something for sure: the sooner or later, we have to face difficult situations or hard decisions. What to say if you are the boss... At the end of the day, things must be done and someone has to do the job. At sea happens the same. Sailing is not always like of all us have seen on those nice pictures from white sailing boats under a sunny day with a calm sea or anchored in the most beautiful beaches (or "calitas" as we say in Spain). All this happens, and is a part of the magic, but the mother nature is unpredictable, capricious and unbeatable, so, respect, knowledge and common sense is mandatory when Neptuno gets upset (and this happens from time to time, no doubt).
Some years ago, I was sailing for a week with a crew of inexperienced friends - so I was the Captain - , and we were somewhere in the mediterranean with a nice 15 Kn breeze and 9 Kn boat speed, enjoying a spectacular sunset, 12 hours away from the nearest land and planning to spend all the night sailing. All as expected, but suddenly, when the night came, something in the water hit the hull. The result was that water was entering the boat affected the batteries and we rapidly lost all energy (no radio, no radar, no light, no autopilot, no engine). Once the crew realized how the things were, they first thing they all did right at the same time was look at the skipper (me, in this case) with a terrified face trying not to go into panic. At that particular moment, if they see doubts, fear or insecurity on the leader face... the most probable thing you can get is a group of headless chickens running around on board doing the things even difficult.
But on the other hand, experienced sailors knows that in most of the times, when things go wrong or the storms and high winds arrives, stay calm, think, make decisions and do the things is a "must". If you go into panic with the group, you get collapsed and you do nothing and as the boat it is not going to be auto-repaired, bad news are assured. But, If you are prepared, you do the right things and you know how to handle, the calm comes later. And this always happens.
This apply even in the worst situations (those that we all have had in our lives). One of the least desirable nightmares for sailors is losing a man overboard at night (and this sh*** happens). In this situation, take an instant to think before act could be the difference between survive or not, as simple as that. Probably, natural instinct will drive you to start manoeuvring the boat, asking for help or doing many other things at the same time, when the key and first thing to do is to keep a permanent eyesight with the person on the water because is incredibly rapid how you will lose him just with a blinking.
As well as on business, making decisions without having the time to think and without the right infromation use to be the wrong way.
" A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor "
- Franklin D. Roosevelt.
32nd President of the U.S.A.
2. DO MORE WITH LESS
Resources are always limited. Whatever our job is, we all would like to have more budgets, tools, staff, equipment, investment or any other resource to make things easier and make the business growth. But (yes, another topic, but is what we all have) this is not real. We all have to go ahead with our responsibilities with limited resources (and sometimes VERY limited).
The longest time I have been sailing without touching land is for six consecutive weeks. On every boat, space is always limited as well, specially when you sail abroad for a long time. In that conditions, where there is no place to stop and buy goods, spare parts or basic needs like fresh water for a long time, the right managment of what you have on board is key, as there are no plan b. Is awsome how easily the human being can get used to survive comfortable just with the most basic things and how to ration, as you rapidly realize that there are no other option.
When good times comes (it also happens as well) , budgets and resources are increased and the pantry of the boat is full, then is easy to maximize your results and make the most of it and it also allows you to appreciate and get the real value of every resource you have. Under normal circumstances, one experienced sailor needs 2 lts. of water per day, including drink, cooking and personal hygiene needs. As an exemple, 2 lts. is the amount of water that our daily shower consumes every 6 seconds for every human being (source: World Health Organization). Let me say that the first shower at home once I'm back never takes less than an hour or so!
" It´s out there at sea where that you are really yourself. "
- Vito Dumas
3. STAY ALERT, STAY TUNED
Specially when the things goes in the right direction and success arrives (this use to happen in 90% of times when we work hard, right and under a constant plan) is very important to keep an eye on what's going on all around you, and not focus your attention only ahead. It´s important to take a permanent look next and behind you. What your competitors, customers and partners are doing, what their needs and innovations are, whether they are bigger or smaller than you.
On a summer night, sailing with a 52 ft. sailing yacht and with 25 Kn of constant wind, I was at the helm handling alone, trying to get the things under control, as the wind and the sea weaves were increasing, the rest of the crew were on their rest time trying to take a nap. In the middle of the deep black night, navigation conditions changed from comfortable to hard, as achieve speeds of +15 Kn is to sail VERY fast (at least for an amatuer), specially when you are alone. I was strongly gripped to the helm and with the 110% of my senses focused on trying to see something ahead and searching for other lights, to be assured that there is nothing in front of me that can make the boat crash, as we were reaching outstanding speeds. After around 2 hours without moving my look from the bow of the boat and trying to see something as far as I could, by some reason I don't know - I guess survival instincts we all have - I turn my head and look back for a second and I get shocked by what I saw. The meaningful of words like "vastness", "hugeness", "immensity" or "enormousness" came instantly to my thoughts as just 100 mts behind us we had the 10 mts high bow of an oil tanker ship (length 450 ft./150 mts.) that was sailing exactly under our same course, faster than us and with the automatic pilot ON. I can assure that I never felt as insignificant as at that moment, looking at the massive amount of steel that was close to come over us. Fortunately, we had the seconds enough to do an urgent escape manoeuvre so we were just hitted by the bigs weaves that the oil tanker generates, being so close. The wall of steel took nearly ten seconds to move on by our side - we were just 3-4 mts. away from their hull - and the stormy noise of those engines are things that I will never forget.
All good sailors, skippers and captains develops the ability to have at least one single neuron alert 24 hours a day under any situation (even asleep) to monitor things 360º around him. Boats, as businesses, projects, customers and people, needs attention as things happens and there are a large list of issues that are not depending on us. The closer and wider your personal attention is, the better reward will be.
" The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at calm seas "
- Ovid, Poet
4. BE PATIENT AND ENJOY THE JOURNEY
We all know that in today's markets the need of imminent results on our jobs is a common characteristic among businesses. But there is a moment where we have to come to reality and translate this topic into results and at that moment we realize that miracles does not exist (at least if we talk about money). Businesses growth depends on having new customers and increase sales figures and to get this goals on such a competitive industry is never an easy task. Because of that, differentiate from your competitors by define strategies focused on winning customer confidence, are - in my opinion - a short path to success. The bad news are that confidence needs time (no short path for that) as well as the consolidation of successful projects.
Something similar happens when low winds or frustrating calms arrives. That's another thing not open to discussion as it will happen for sure. If you sail ashore for long journeys, one day or another you can get stopped in the middle of nowhere reaching desperating speeds of 0 Kn!! When this happens, be patient while waiting for favorable winds is mandatory (for not to go crazy). On a trip across the Adriatic Sea we spend 48 Hrs. to sail 48 NM. This means the ultra speed of 1.7 KM/H during two days non stop. Again, once the good wind comes, you are even more encouraged to make the most of it.
"Enjoy" is the last topic I have been not able to avoid in this post but not the last in importance in this short list. All of us spend more time in our jobs and with our smartphones than with our family and friends. This is serious enough to try to enjoy the journey as much as we can. For those who really love the activity of sailing, destination is not the important thing. The key issue is the journey, and the time you spend preparing and thinking on that.
" I am a citizen of the most beautiful nation on earth, a nation whose laws are harsh yet simple, a nation that never cheats, which is immense and without borders, where life is lived in the present. In this limitless nation, this nation of wind, light, and peace, there is no other ruler besides the sea. " - Bernard Moitessier
Hope you enjoyed the read, a BIG THANK YOU!!! for those brave connections who arrived until this point of the post ; ) . Feel free to comment.