Weathering the Storm

I grew up sailing; first setting foot (or more likely crawling) on board at the tender age of one and able to sail by the time I was strong enough to steer. Sailing has taught me a lot about self-reliance, planning and adaptability. It’s ripe with metaphors that apply to life in general and business in particular; we plot our own courses in life, we largely choose our own shipmates, we helm (steer) our own vessel and are subject to a changing environment of currents, wind and waves. 

Someone who is unskilled at sailing will find it hard to predict and adapt to the changing conditions they sail in. They are likely to get blown off course, find themselves in difficulty and even danger. A skilled sailor is prepared; they have a plan for where they want to get to, but they also understand what might help or hinder their progress on the way. They are ready to adapt and use the conditions, where they can, to their advantage. That’s not to say the experienced sailor never gets caught out – we all do, but they are better able to handle the situation and get themselves out of trouble.

There are particularly relevant lessons to be learnt from sailing in extreme weather (high seas and very strong winds). There are different survival tactics, but two are pertinent here:When hit by a storm many will slow the boat by reducing sail, battening down the hatches (sealing the inside of the boat) and attempting to maintain course in spite of the conditions. Another school of thought says that you should instead change course, keep plenty of sail out and use the wind to your advantage to outrun the storm.

This is very much the situation businesses find themselves in with Covid-19 – it’s hit us all like a hurricane, disrupting everyone globally. The temptation here is to ‘batten down the hatches’; maintain strategic direction but slow the business down and wait for the storm to pass. This would be a sensible approach if Covid-19 is swift to pass and the world will return to it’s previous state following it.

However, it’s now increasingly obvious that this won’t be the case. The ‘new world’ we’ll emerge into will be fundamentally changed. Many say that you can’t predict the future but I disagree; you can make a reasonable educated guess at the near future based on the current situation and emerging trends. For example;

– There will be a global recession
– Unemployment will increase
– Taxes will increase
– People will work from home more
– We’ll all travel less in general

It’s possible to extrapolate from these near-certainties and consider the possible impact on different sectors and areas of life. Of course, the further you extrapolate, the less the certainty you can have, but still – it’s an informative process.

This is one of the those times when the world shifts on its axis. Remaining doggedly fixed on strategy that, pre-Covid, made sense will no longer ensure survival. It’s time for many to change course – to literally pivot – and make use of the new prevailing conditions to transform their businesses; supply chains, ways of working, target markets and more. This won’t be easy. The art of the pivot is a difficult one; part logic, part insight, part intuition – but it will be vital.

The good news is that insights can be gained through data. Organisations now have access to huge amounts of data that can be used to both identify potential pivots and track the success (or otherwise) of them. Approaches like Design Thinking and Agile Working provide methodologies so pivots can be prototyped, tested and deployed rapidly and with relatively small investment. L&D is becoming even more important since training, learning, communications, performance support and capability building are the ‘oil’ making the pivot(s) smoother.

In short; we’ve had the tools and methodologies to pivot for a long time. Now we have the impetus of necessity. It’s time to be brave, take calculated risks and set a new course for the new world.

About the author – Rob Hubbard: 

Rob is a designer through and through who is fascinated by how we learn, what we remember and why we pay attention to certain things. He is a huge enthusiast of all that technology can offer to enhance learning and has completed a huge variety of projects in his 14 year career.

He is the editor and co-author of The Really Useful eLearning Instruction Manual published by Wiley and featuring contributions from the brightest and best elearning minds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rob won the Outstanding Contribution Award at the 2015 eLearning Awards for ‘working tirelessly to raise standards and encourage greater creativity in digital learning’.

Rob is Managing Director and Creative Lead at LAS

Connect with Rob on LinkedIn

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1 Comment
  1. Michelle 4 weeks ago

    Liked the analogy of the sailor and the storm. I might add an additional option which is sailing into the storm and adapt as to the storm as you experience it! (I’m not a sailor so not sure if it recommended to sail into the storm)

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