When I started sea kayaking a few years ago, I joined a group called “Roll or Die” that was taught by a former rescue swimmer on a mission to train kayakers how to do the former to avoid the latter. As much as I try to avoid metaphors, those rescue methods struck me as being very similar to the unpredictable business conditions we navigate every day.
Weather patterns change, tides shift, waves rise – any or all can turn a dry start into a soggy finish, at work or on the water. Assisted rescues are common for kayakers who capsize, and can be dangerous because they require assistance from others to get out of trouble. The person in the water has to stay calm and hang on, while those coming to assist put themselves at risk with an urgency driven by the knowledge that someone’s well-being may depend on their skills. Projects face similar challenges that can result in putting investments, resources and other initiatives at risk, and often there isn’t much time for staying calm and hanging on – much less waiting around for someone else to figure out the next move.
It took just one dunking and a rescue of the first type to convince me that I better learn a second method: the bullet-proof roll, which is a far better defense against unpredictable conditions. Hanging upside down to practice while strapped into an 18-foot kayak is disconcerting under the best conditions, but mastering different rolls meant being able to get upright in seconds without assistance and with less risk. The confidence gained from developing skills and mastering tools made a dramatic difference in how our group faced challenges on the water.
Projects are also more likely to succeed when contributors have a “bullet-proof roll” comprised of the skills, data and tools needed to navigate through sometimes-turbulent, often-unpredictable initiatives. Taking the time to deploy the right solutions and processes during periods of relative calm sets teams up for success, especially when challenged to deliver the transformational changes required to keep an organization competitive. And, it prepares them to take on bigger challenges with more confidence.
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