- Motorboater businesses worry about moving forward without a clear view of how they are going to get there and confidence that they have enough “fuel” to make it without problem.
- Sailor businesses move forward with the confidence that they can navigate to the resources they need, as long as they are creating sufficient demand which “floats” their vessel.
- Motorboater businesses believe that they should somehow get to their destination smoothly and predictably.
- Sailors know better and count on using the surprises along the way to help them.
- Motorboater businesses hold on to an entitlement attitude.
- Sailors enjoy the ups and downs and the detours along the way without the need for further gratification. Look at the offices in sailor companies: they are trim, minimal, and functional.
- Motorboater businesses panic easily and start “bailing” persons necessary to their future success as soon as they see difficulties ahead.
- Sailor businesses make sure everyone knows their job and helps them work together to gain success.
- Motorboater businesses are victims of the economy.
- Sailor businesses are opportunists.
- Motorboater businesses require too much investment to sustain themselves during economic downturns.
- Sailor businesses can keep moving or just survive with far less investment.
- Motorboater businesses require far more exaggerated responses to difficulties in order to survive.
- Sailor businesses can reduce their response and still move faster.
The secret to growth in a recession: Motorboat vs. Sailboat
As I have watched a broad range of businesses react to this slow economy, something hit me about the differences between those who are thriving right now and those who are either dying or barely surviving. The thrivers are all “sailors.” The fatalities (even if they are only dying slowly) are motorboaters.
Here’s what I mean:
Motorboaters need to have all the fuel on board necessary to reach their destination before they start off.
Sailors only have to have the tools and knowledge to take advantage of what they find along the way and stay out of serious trouble.
Motorboaters expect to take a straight line path to their destination.
Sailors expect to take a constantly changing course to reach their destination.
A motorboater expects to get to his destination as quickly as possible, with the fewest detours, and is upset if he misses the cocktail hour at the other end.
A sailor enjoys the trip and doesn’t need the cocktail hour to have enjoyed the journey, because the joy was in the process of getting there.
Motorboaters get extremely worried and begin to panic when their boat tips and water is rushing along one of the the gunwale.
A sailor knows he has the opportunity to go faster and gain more ground when his boat tips and water is rushing along one of the gunwale.
When a motorboater believes his fuel to reach his destination is below the minimum required, he starts to call for help, slows things down, and wallows in the sea.
When a sailor starts to lose the wind he needs, he moves to where better wind is or simply waits patiently for the wind to come back, as it always does.
A motorboat must maintain power to sustain itself in a heavy storm, otherwise it wallows and is soon capsized.
A sailboat can maintain itself in a storm without any sails and choose to either run before the storm under “bare poles” or turn bow into the wind and ride it out using a “sea anchor” to make it go slightly slower than the oncoming seas.
When the seas get a bit rough and the boat begins to rock, a motorboater will most often either run for port or just hold position, get seasick, and wait until things get better.
When the seas get a bit rough and the boat begins to rock, sailors know they can make even better speed; they just shorten sail a bit.
Most large businesses act like “motorboaters.” That’s why they have to cut people and budgets as soon as they see potential trouble ahead. They head for port and ride out the difficulties. They are victims of the economy, not drivers of it.
The most successful entrepreneurs are “sailors.” They know how to spot new wind, how to take advantage of changing tides and currents, and they drie their businesses based upon what they come across. They are the drivers of a new economy, because they are the ones out front discovering what’s ahead.
Sadly, far too many small businesses try to emulate large “motorboater” organizations. During tough economic times, they make the same mistakes, but they don’t have the resources to survive as long while doing the wrong things.
The secret is to make your organization more of a “sailor” organization. Watch for the wind. Move to where it is. Don’t panic when things look tough, but recognize the opportunity to accelerate while others founder or run for port.
Wes Ball is the author of The Alpha Factor. He has sailed for more than 30 years in both cruising and racing boats on both coasts and in the great lakes. He is also a business owner, executive coach, and business turnaround consultant. He has created growth for businesses in three recessions, even while their competitors are foundering.