What we can learn from sailing about business pivot solutions in a crisis.

(Image source: Princeton University Sailing Club)

Right now -- in the grip of the C19 Crisis -- many of you possibly are, or feel, you are "in the irons" right now. Your business is pointing directly into a forceful headwind.

Growing up, one of the great joys of my childhood was learning how to sail. An Optimist dinghy was the perfect little boat to learn in because it was so forgiving of strategic and tactical blunders.

And, yes, I found myself "in the irons" often, much to my brothers' amusement.

This term dates back to the days of the big old wooden sailing boats transporting prisoners shackled to the deck in irons. Getting in the irons refers to when you sail directly into the wind. Often it might be the most direct route to your target, but it cannot be done. It’s literally a no-go zone. Your sail flaps wildly, hither and thither, searching for the wind, which just rushes right past it because there’s no angle of resistance. Worse still, it’s really difficult to steer out of it in order to find the wind because you have no momentum.

So you find yourself drifting backwards, further than ever from your objective.

There’s a whole new lexicon to learn with words such as running, reaching, hauling, heading up, etc. These all referred to the all-important angle of the sail to the wind.

In other words, similar to the strategic direction in your business.

I saw this for myself when another sailor in the same type of boat was going roughly in the same direction as I was, but perhaps at a 5-degrees different angle, and he would pull ahead with a churning wake, leaving me scratching my head and wondering why I’d ever taken up this dumb sport. Then there were a whole bunch of other terms such as jibing, tacking, going about. These are all ways of turning the boat.

In other words, similar to the tactics available in your business.

One mind-blowing fact I learned is that yachts can actually sail faster than the wind. This is usually between a beam reach (90° to the true wind and a broad reach (about 135° away from the true wind). This involves a lot of trigonometry obviously, so I was more a gut-feel sailor.

The latest generation of America’s Cup yacht race contestants sum this up perfectly. They’re able to sail as close as 20° to the wind. Most impressively some are able travel at twice the speed of the wind. One New Zealand boat was recorded belting along at nearly 48 knots (88km/h) in 22 knots of wind.

Business is about harnessing and harvesting the wind. If your sail is not at the right angle, you need to perform a pivot. In my latest book PIVOT POWER I identify 20 different ways to do this covering pivoting business strategy, pivoting business model, Pivoting business plan, pivoting brand strategy, pivoting marketing strategy, plus -- my personal favourite, the Random Crazy Shit pivot, as successfully pulled off by Nintendo.

If you're currently in the irons, don't panic - pivot. Because one thing worse than getting in the irons is “turning turtle”. This means your yacht is completely upside down with the mast pointing vertically downward in the water. This is not good. So if you need help, reach out to me before then.