David Frederick's | iAIR BLOG

Consulting, Innovation, Strategy, Vision, Education, & Ideation

Sharks in the water, Snow on the mountain

One of the many reasons I love my state of New Hampshire is because of the diversity of outdoor activities and the close proximity to my second favorite state, Maine. Within one hour I can be deep in the White Mountains or on the coast of Maine, or for that matter, sitting at Fenway Park in Boston. Awesome.

I was enjoying such a moment on this past Fourth of July weekend. I was with my family on the Coast of Maine at the beach relaxing. Specifically, I was kayaking on the ocean and frolicking with the harbor seals and riding the waves. It was a picture perfect day. Sunny, warm, clear water, lots of seals, nice waves, kids having fun swimming in the surf and tidal pools, etc.

After this wonderful day, we were driving home and I checked my iPhone to scan the headlines and much to my surprise I came across two very “interesting” articles that got me thinking. The first was how the Coast Guard had issued a marine warning for the Northern New England coast and specifically “paddlers” i.e. kayakers to be on the lookout and possible stay out of the water due to numerous GREAT WHITE SHARKS in the areas! What!? It went on to further state that due to the higher number of seal populations in the area, it is believed that the sharks were coming in for food and that sharks of this size 15-30 feet long may have a hard time distinguishing between a 15 foot kayak and a large harbor seal. It went on to say that some of these sharks were spotted not far from where I was Kayaking!

So that explains why I was the only guy out on the water and why the seals were not to shy to swim around my “yak”. Safety in numbers I guess. Now I grew up on and in the ocean. I was even born in the “Ocean State” of Rhode Island, so sharks of most sizes don’t typically scare me. Hungry great whites with the inability to distinguish between a big red fiber glass tube that I am paddling around in and a cute harbor seal does get me a little nervous.

To digress for a moment, I have a friend who hates going out on the ocean. Hates it. For real. Finally, I asked him why he was so “uncomfortable” about leaving the beach and getting in the water, and no he had not seen Jaws. He finally broke down and in dead seriousness said that once he entered the ocean, he was no longer the top of the food chain and became prey. That fact, made him genuinely nervous and unwilling to go out on or in the ocean where he would be helpless. I came to fully understand what he meant after thinking about my frolic with the seals and the sharks.

The other story I read, was that while I was paddling along oblivious to great white sharks in my midst, about 80 or so miles away on the top of Mount Washington in NH, it was snowing! Snowing in July! Keep in mind it was beautiful, 90 degrees and sunny everywhere else. But snowing on top of Mt. Washington. Crazy.

So while I was digesting this and my imagined battle with a 30 foot great white in my 15 foot kayak, it occurred to me that this is very much like some of the challenges my clients experience. Only a consultant right?

A business can be “paddling” along thinking everything is fine in their business, activity and strategy, but just below the surface is a force i.e. the shark, that can either take a bite out of your boat, capsize you, then eat you, or at least scare the hell out of you. And on the horizon, its snowing on the tallest mountain in your region. Has the world gone mad?

This extreme of conditions and states (no pun intended) is what causes discontinuity in the execution of an organizations strategy. Had I checked the news before hitting the water, I would have known about the sharks and the snow. There is not much I could have done about the snow but interesting to know about it. In regards to the sharks, not much I could do there either. Sure, I could have stayed out of the water but that would be no fun and I would be reacting – out of fear, versus responding to a potential threat. Had I known of this story before I hit the water, I would have still hit the water, but would have been more situationally aware for the ominous shark fin, large black shadows on the rocks below the surface, the scattering of seals in all directions and of course, the jaws theme coming from the waves. Then at least, I would have been prepared and could respond to any threats versus react. Of course, one lucky (unlucky for me) bite and I would toast, but there are always risks in everything we do. In business, this would be analogous to knowing my market and business conditions and whats happening in the periphery so I could stay prepared and take responsive action versus reactive action.

I have said it a million times if not once, you must be responsive, NOT reactive if you are to succeed in business and even in life. Responsive is dynamic. Fluid. Reactive is static. Static is death to a business.

Therefore, the moral of my little story is this. In today’s hyper-competitive markets where discontinuity reigns, you must be informed in all things that impact and effect your business, people, products, services and strategy. Things change rapidly and the sharks can get you if your not prepared. Paddling faster is not always the answer. By keeping “situational awareness”, and planning for challenges/unplanned changes, and having a dynamic and fluid contingency, you are in a much better position to respond versus react.

Sometimes its the little things like preparedness, anticipation and dynamic action that make the difference between success and failure. But you must be prepared so when these events do come, your ready to act. Even the best laid plans and strategies, if they are not fluid, responsive, and dynamic can sink even the best kayaks on the water. Remember, this isn’t just a macro strategic issue, it applies to micro issues like departments, product segments, services, teams, initiatives,etc.

Keep that in mind when the sharks come around. Where there is a food supply, there are sharks, bears, wolfs, politicians, banks, the IRS, mothers in law, other businesses, and all other types of predators that would be happy to take their pound of flesh from the unprepared.

Keep Paddling!

-DF

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Written by David Frederick

July 12, 2010 at 12:51 PM

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