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Rowing against your own tide

It had been heroic work: the touts at the busstation said it didn’t exist, according to the tourist office it was forbidden, but finally I was rowing on-my-own in a massive wooden canoe in the famous Kerala backwaters. The alternative had been joining a luxurious houseboat cruise or an organized tour, both are probably a lot of fun, just not for me. My persuasion tactics at the tourist office had been all over the place: my swimming skills, canoe experience on the ocean, (co) owner of two boats in canal capital Amsterdam, having lived on a houseboat for a year, even the fact that The Netherlands lies for 40% below sea level had been thrown into the pit. In the end, “ok, I’ll pay extra in order not to have somebody row me” proved to be the winning argument. Not very surprisingly, actually.

The silence on the jungle river water was a pleasure to listen to. Only intermittently it was interrupted by the questions of the villagers. Invariably the first question was: “one ?” as they look amused at this stranger on his own.

Despite or because of my bragging about my rowing skills, it proved to be difficult to get the boat in the right direction. I was puzzled: if the boat turns to much towards the right, you paddle a bit extra on the right and you go straight again, right? If that doesn’t work: row a bit extra. However, i seemed to be rowing against my own tide as the boat slalomed from left to right through the jungle.

Suddenly, I remembered the advice a wise friend once gave me: look at a fixed point on the horizon and watch the direction and acceleration of the front of the boat compared with that point. No longer was I trying to get more power into my rowing by looking at my paddle, but i suddenly managed to prevent a lot of issues. However, I still ran to frequently into the shore for my sailor’s pride. Finally, an old lady, shouted a tip from the shore: break left! This was the exact opposite of what I was doing before (accelerate right) and it had the effect I was looking for. Only then it dawned on me that the difference between the two was that by going slower I could maneuver the boat more easily, whereas by accelerating the boat I achieved the opposite.

Probably I should include these learnings into my management style. Look at the horizon and compare it constantly to the point that is moving first is a great metaphor for making sure you’re not changing to fast. Paddle less is an obvious one. And I especially like: if your organization needs to stop turning right, break left, instead of putting more effort on the right.


1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    goed idee voor je management style. Sta je zelf ook eens op de rem ipv anderen 🙂

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