Our survival depends on how we respond

Sydney Hobart 2004

From both an individual and organisational perspective our ability to respond effectively to our environment defines our future relevance and ultimately our survival. When talking about responsiveness I often use the story of the 2004 Sydney Hobart Yacht Race. The race stands out as one of the most challenging on record and only half of the fleet making it to the finish line. The difference between the boats that finished and the boats that didn’t was largely about how they responded to the difficult conditions and there is a great lesson somewhere in here for how businesses need to start thinking about digital technology.

There are four defining characteristics of responsiveness: awareness, intention, function and action. When it comes to awareness it is well excepted that the conditions will be variable. As a result, most boats in the race have invested heavily in awareness. Technology has allowed navigators to track changes to wind, wave and other weather conditions in near real time.

The second characteristic of the successful boats was having the right intention. The intention of some skippers was overwhelmingly about winning the race. This included two of the pre-race favourites, Skandia and Konica Minolta, both of which failed to finish because of structural damage to their vessels. For others winning was secondary to the safety of their vessel and crew, I was lucky enough to be on one of these boats instead.

The third characteristic of successful boats was function. This is about having the right gear and maintaining it in the right condition. The boat I was sailing on was built by a commercial boat builder as his personal boat. As a result it’s hull was nearly twice as thick as other boats of a similar size. We may have sacrificed some speed but we had the right boat for unexpected conditions.

The final characteristic of the successful boats was action. The experience and ability of the crew to act in accordance with the skippers intention and within the functionality of the boat. Our crew consisted of young and old, experienced and novices.We had three ex-professional fishermen aboard and the oldest woman to ever compete in the Sydney Hobart (Norma turned 80 days before the race). The watches were structured so that there was always an experienced crew member available to mentor and support the novice ones.

So what does this got to do with digital technology in business? Firstly, many organisations are unaware of the exponential impact of technology in business. The operating environment is changing fast and many organisations are not aware. Many still operate under a false mantra of stability and have invested little in understanding the opportunities and challenges of digital technologies.

[tweetthis]Our survival depends on how well we harness digital tools to weather difficulties.[/tweetthis]

Secondly, most don’t realise that in business there is no winning or losing, just survival, and survival ultimately means working to your conditions. We are operating in a knowledge and information economy and our future relevance is going to mean engaging our organisations in digital tools sooner rather than later.

Thirdly, we need to equip our people with the right tools. We need to be looking how we can digitise our information and knowledge flows so that our people can find the right information wherever and whenever they need it. We need to be investing in mobile and we need to be investing in cloud.

Finally we need to make sure that our people are guided and trained to act. They need to know the digital imperative and have the skills to act appropriately. We also need to identify the digital masters and digital leaders in our organisations and provide them with the resources to train and guide others. And we need to do these things as if our organisations survival depended on it. Because ultimately it does.