Life lessons from boat racing – keep a light hand

This year we have been struggling a bit with the balance of the boat. Once the wind pipes up a bit, there has been an ever increasing amount of weather helm.

After significant fiddling around, including taking the furling apart, we have managed to adjust the balance of the rig a little further forward and now seem to have it  mostly under control. Going upwind now in a 15 knot breeze gives a small amount of weather helm and that can be tuned out to a neutral helm using the traveller.

The issue we had before is that the excess weather helm was causing significant added drag under the water. We would need the rudder significantly off the center line to counter balance the weather helm and keep the boat on track. This meant that the top speed was knocked down a bit and more significantly the boat was slow to accelerate out of a tack. It also meant that you really needed to pay attention to your line as the boat would tend to head up with even a split seconds wandering of concentration by the helm.

Now the boat is in balance, the helm can steer with two fingers and we are minimizing extra underwater drag. It is simply a more pleasant boat to sail, not to mention faster.

The application of this to the business world is that in any organization you need to look for situations where the organization is out of balance. Maybe this is due to inadequate or even potentially over staffing, it could be because of poor or over complex business processes. The list is potentially endless, but the bottom line is that the organization is having to work a lot harder to produce results than it needs to. Dealing with this may be easy, or it may be hard, but the rewards are significant, both in terms of productivity and also your business will be a more pleasant place to work as the frustration level will fall.


From a management perspective, just like on the boat, you will be able to steer your organization with a much lighter hand.

Life lessons from boat racing – leaders lead

When we first starting racing many years ago, I was trying to do everything. I drove the boat, called tactics, called sail trim and generally annoyed the hell out of my crew as they sat around waiting for the next order.

Well our results showed that. We improved gradually, but then hit a wall and couldn’t get any better than middle of the pack. Not only that, but I was not enjoying racing and would come off the lake with my head ready to explode.

So we tried an experiment. I gave up the helm. The reasoning behind this was that in most circumstances, driving the boat was fairly mechanical but required absolute concentration, and it alone was a full time job, especially on a short course. If you let your concentration waver by calling tactics or calling sail trim, you simply weren’t driving as well as you could. Not only that, I was also missing a fair bit on the tactics and sail trim side as I simply couldn’t do those and helm at the same time.

It worked well, and to this day I rarely drive the boat in a race. Instead I concentrate on tactics, and now rely on others looking after the mechanics of getting the boat going well. Is it working perfectly, no but it is working well and I’m doing just one job which is to try to figure out the best way around the course, with minor departures looking at trim. Our results improved dramatically and with the old boat, we ran off a 5 year championship string. With the new boat, we are still figuring it out, so our results are middle of the pack but we are getting better as we figure out the responsibilities.

If you equate this to life off the water, it is the recognition that in any team there is a person that calls the shots but he or she doesn’t have to do all of the critical things. They need to train others and then let them get on with the job. Of course they need to keep an eye on things, but their job is to make sure the process is proceeding in the right direction and that all of the jobs are being done well. If you train people well, then they can do the jobs better than you can, and you can keep your eyes open for bumps in the road or considering the topic of these articles, waves in the lake.

I also learned that there is only so much that I can do and still be effective. If I take on too much then I don’t do anything well, so I concentrate on the tasks that have the highest return.

Politics of public appointments

There is a debate going on in the UK about the appointment of the person to lead OFSTED. Now OFSTED is the organization that oversees education, so it is a huge responsibility and is currently held by a Labor Peer, Baroness Morgan.

All of the left media are howling at the decision not to award a second term to Morgan, and are decrying the politicization of the position, claiming that it will be filled by a Tory hack.

Are they delusional? What in all that is holy did they expect?

Of course the government is going to stuff all of the leading posts with people who support their ideology. It is one of the perks of being the government and as long as these people are highly qualified and are not die in the wool idiots that put ideology over practical effective leadership, I can live with it – heck, that is exactly what Labor did, otherwise all of the key posts wouldn’t be filled by Labor supporters.

I hate the thought that the positions would be assigned based upon contributions to the party, but am realistic enough to know that goes on. What I would hope though is that with the public scrutiny that is being applied (although it didn’t seem to be applied with quite the same fervor when labor did exactly the same thing), that even though the person will probably have a right leaning philosophy, that they are competent and have the best interests of the kids at heart.

The lights are back on

Those of us that live in Toronto have been going through a tough week. There was an ice storm on the weekend, followed by large scale power outages. I live on the edge of a ravine surrounded by old trees. It is a lovely place to be in the summer, but it won’t be the same next year.

As the storm progressed, I was lying awake listening to the crack thump as trees all around my house were losing branches and then the power went out. I know the house isn’t overhung by any large trees, so that was my cue to snuggle back under the blankets. The next morning I got up, looked out of the window and the devastation to the tree canopy was widespread and serious. As I watched, more and more large branches were falling and those that were hanging in, were bent over with the weight of the ice. Into the parka and a walk around the neighborhood showed this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. In my area alone I counted 15 downed lines and one transformer that had been knocked over by a tree fall.

That was four days ago, and the temperature has been brutally cold. We have a fireplace, so we were able to just about keep one room tolerable. Our lighting has been Coleman lanterns and our cooking has been a venerable old Coleman camping stove. I’m really glad that I did some camping years ago, as the gear has come in very useful over the last few days. I cannot image how the line crews were able to work in the cold, but work they did, and late on Christmas day our power came back on.

I had a chance to chat with the crew that was working outside my house, and they were tired but cheerful, and a nicer bunch of guys you couldn’t imagine. That is the good side, now for the not so good.

My local political types have been invisible. Never ones to miss kissing a baby or getting their mug on any photo op, during this crisis they were nowhere to be found. Ditto the Hydro communication people. I know their crews were working their asses off – I saw it, but as far as letting people know what was happening and when their area was going to get some attention, that was sadly missing. The only feed that was any way effective was the Twitter feed. Now a word of advice to the idiots in charge of communication – not EVERYONE uses Twitter you morons. Not only that – but the people that are vulnerable, the sick and the elderly are even less likely to use Twitter.

I’m not a communications professional – but even I could have done better than this miserable effort. Local radio would maybe have been a good idea? The lack of information was and continues to be an issue. Once a day updates – are you kidding? If I know my power won’t be back on for three days, I can make plans. Using electoral role information to follow up with the elderly – gee now isn’t that a stunning thought. My neighbor is a centenarian – maybe check on him? As it happens he was away, but I didn’t see anyone coming to check on him, other than local neighbors. The elderly are not always able to go to a “warming centres”. Electric wheelchairs don’t work too well in snow and ice and phones as well as hydro were out.

The front line crews were stunning, but they were let down by the rest.