Friday, September 4, 2009

Parallels

Hello all! Chris here! What a couple of weeks it has been. Kristen and I have been mostly full time at the office, and we've been working to keep the kids somewhat entertained during the entire time. Between hanging out with friends, going to Kristen's parent's house and sitting them in our office break room with the XBox, pool table, air hockey and other fun stuff, we've covered everything except for school. It's been a couple of weeks since we last sat them down with their schoolbooks, but we figure that we can call it Summer break.

We're holed up at the Albany Yacht Club for the next few weeks. It's a good place with decent facilities and the people there have been nice to talk to. What more can you ask? It's been kind of strange having two cars (we left them in the care of one of the people from my office when we left) when we're mostly used to walking or using public transportation in most places. I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing - when you have so much accessible to you, you feel like you need to take advantage of it. I think it was a wonderful decision to bring Pelican up here since coming home to her always puts a smile on our faces. Also, having her here allows us (and Poppi) to do some work on her, such as refinishing the cap rail, and maintenance on our dinghy outboards and generator.

Speaking of maintenance, we found a small problem when we were in Norfolk. Apparently, since we haven't used it since we left Florida in February, the cap on our holding tank pump out (which allows us to get rid of all of our stored "waste products" without pumping them out to the surrounding water, a necessity when you're in closed waters such as the Hudson River) was frozen shut. We tried a million different things, including the use of our gentle persuader (rubber mallet) and our not-so-gentle persuader (hammer) and it just wouldn't budge. We almost used heat from our propane torch until we remembered that the tank would be full of methane gas. Probably not a good idea to put fire near that! Anyway, we ordered a new cap and took the old one off the end of the hose from the holding tank and gave it to Poppi to try to open. From what he told us, it took heating it to red hot and then banging on it with a sledgehammer to finally open it! When he did, he found that the "stainless steel" cap was completely rusted at the base of its threads! Knowing that there are a few varieties of stainless, he took it to his trusty magnet and found that the cap was magnetic. Apparently, it was most likely 304 stainless, which can rust, as opposed to 316, which doesn't. Unfortunately, the new cap we bought is slightly smaller than the old one, so we'll have to epoxy the old spot and drill new holes. Oh well - no boat project is easy.

Getting back to work has been interesting. I find the parallels in cruising and business to be amazing! I'll share with y'all a few things that cruising has taught me over the last nine months. I apologize in advance for possibly coming across as preachy, but when I find a soapbox I enjoy standing on it.

Lesson one: Always be ready to change. I posted on my Facebook account the other day that "Meeting about change is not the same thing as changing." Over the past couple of weeks I've noticed a big aversion to change at my organization. Everyone wants to talk about it, but few step up and embrace it. Decision making goes right along with this too - everyone wants to talk about the fact that a decision has to be made, but nobody wants to be the one to do it. I used to be the same exact way, but cruising has changed that for me. In the fairly unprotected waters of the Bahamas we'd listen to Chris Parker's weather forecasts on a daily basis. When arriving at most islands, we'd want to stay for several days, but every so often Chris would forecast nasty weather or wind arriving in a couple of days. We were always ready to pull up our anchor within 5-10 minutes and to move to a different location. If we didn't make an immediate decision, and we weren't willing to change our location, we'd potentially put ourselves in danger. If we waited to make the decision, the opportunity to change would pass us by and it would be too late. In business, we tend to be the same way - we have meeting after meeting about what we need to do, but the opportunity to take advantage of a situation often passes us by before we seize a hold of it.

Lesson two - Always be prepared, always have the right tools - and know how to use them - to understand your situation, and always hope for the best but prepare for the worst. A couple of weeks ago we got hit by a storm packing 70mph winds. We knew it was coming since we had been watching it all afternoon on our Sirius satellite weather system. We had contacted the Coast Guard to ask them what to expect and they told us 12mph-15mph winds. Looking at all of the reds, oranges and yellows, and all of the lightning strikes, showing on the satellite display, we knew it was going to be much worse than that. We hoped we would be wrong, but we decided to prepare for the worst. We shortened our sails. We tied everything down. We discussed in great detail what everyone's roles were if we got hit badly. And then it hit, but we were ready so we all knew what to do and nothing was damaged, and we weren't hurt. We had prepared. In business, all to often I find people surprised when something happens - we don't get a purchase order in when expected, we don't get paid on time, someone calls in sick on the day of an important meeting. We need to spend more time preparing for the unexpected. We need to understand the tools we have available to us to predict what we don't see today. We need to get the tools we don't yet have.

Which leads me into lesson 3 - Communications is key. Do you think if I had kept my mouth shut when I first saw the storm on the Sirius that we would have made it through? Do you think that if I didn't call out wind speeds and what Pelican was doing while we had 70mph winds pushing us along that we would have survived? I can say the answer to both questions is a qualified "NO". As soon as I saw that we were on a course to potential danger, I spoke up. That enabled the rest of the crew (Kristen and Poppi) to also watch the storm and allowed us to have the opportunity to prepare. There was no reason to weather it myself - everyone who would have a part in our path through it needed to be involved as soon as the I saw the danger. Likewise, if I didn't share with Kristen and Poppi how Pelican was steering and what the windspeed was doing they wouldn't have been able to adjust the sails accordingly and we could have easily broken our rig. Instead, we communicated everything, to a fault, before and during the storm. In business, people often see that an organization is having an issue with something - whether it's customer service related, employee related, financial related, short-term or long-term, is irrelevant. It is absolutely critical that everyone in a business speak up as soon as they identify an issue, large or small, to give the people there the opportunity to fix it. Period. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone at any level to keep their mouth shut. I actually run my business this way, with communications occurring at all levels, from myself down, and I expect from my engineers and account team up.

Lesson four - control only what you can, and don't let the things you can't control get you down. Weather, wind, waves, etc. are all things you can't control. There is absolutely no reason to let things you can't control upset you. There's nothing you can do about them, so why freak out? One of the most overused phrases these days is "it is what it is", but I think it's fairly accurate in most cases. So you can't go to the next island right away. So you miss an event that you wanted to attend. Oh well! The only thing you can affect is the future, not the past (unless you're the press), so why get in the dumps about it? Business is the same way. So you lost a deal - find a new one. So an employee quit - use it as an opportunity to find someone better. So business sucks - figure out why, and fix it! You can feel sorry for yourself, or you figure out a way to make things better.

Last but not least, one of the most important lessons I think - lesson five - A day is what you make of it. If you pay attention to lesson four and don't let everything bug you, you can keep your days incredibly positive. Everyone keeps asking me how I can be so jovial every day, considering that our business is having issues, we're taking a break from our cruise, and we have to work again every day. If I let it get me down, every day would just, well, suck! I have no interest in every day sucking, so I enter each day with a positive attitude. I walk into my office with a big smile on my face, and I do my darndest to keep it there all day. It is absolutely amazing how infectious a positive attitude can be!

So - we're here, we're working on making our company better, and we know we can make it happen if we listen to our own rules. We still need to find a ton of new business to get things better, but we're working hard to make it happen. By the way - I'm looking for new "Linked In" buddies, so look up "Chris Labatt-Simon" and "Kristen Labatt-Simon" on Linked In and send us an invite! Talk to y'all soon!

2 comments:

Sylvina said...

I love lessons 4 & 5 and have learned a lot about those very things, lately. How we get unhappy about things that we have no power to change, so as you know, we can only change how we see them or how we're going to handle them. It has made a huge difference in my life. Thanks for sharing!

searavensailing.com said...

Great post! Not many land lubbers would immediately see the transferable skills opportunities that living aboard full time presents, its not all sunsets and dolphins, if you can't problem solve on the spot and pre-plan for most potential problems, you're going to have a rough time off the dock!