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4 Rules For Pushing the Envelope

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NSRI
NSRI

Unless you're a sailboat racing nut, you may have missed the story about the dramatic capsizing of Team Oracle's 72-foot catamaran in San Francisco Bay. Sailboat racing isn't my thing, but my friend and strategic facilitation colleague, Linda Lindquist-Bishop -- a world-class sailboat racer herself -- passed on the story and a few dramatic pictures.

Click here for more pictures and here for video of the capsize.

Remarkably, none of the 14 crew members on board were seriously injured in this crash. But while remarkable, it's probably not dumb luck. Listen to what team leader James Spithill says he was thinking about as the stern started to flip over the bow.

You're 70 feet in the air. My biggest concern is there are a lot more of your teammates on board (than on the smaller 45-foot catamarans). And really, until you know everyone is accounted for and safe, that's probably the worst part of the experience.

Maybe Spithill's mindset explains this account from crew member Jonathan MacBeth of what he heard just as the boat started to flip.

The last thing I heard before we went over, and it became evident we were going to go over, was Jimmy (Spithill) yelling out, "Make sure you have an eye on your mates."

Spithill points out that sailboat racers at the highest level have to push boundaries and accidents like this -- while never preferable -- can happen.

However, the most important thing is everyone is safe and sound and we got the boat and components back to shore. Now we have to learn from it. No doubt it's a setback in our program, but there is no doubt the team will bounce back from it and not let it affect us.

Click here to read the excellent AP story on this incident.

So for those of us who aren't planning to jump on a 70-foot catamaran and drive it close to -- or past -- its limits in freezing water and high winds, what does this mean? A few rules occur to me:

  • Rule #1: If you're pushing the limits in your line of work, accidents will happen. This applies to startups, innovative growth ventures and trailblazing code-writers as much as sailboat racers.
  • Rule #2: If you're pushing limits, you'd better have a recovery plan in place for all possible failures you can foresee. Not doing so is just plain dumb. Not rehearsing those recovery plans with your team would also be dumb since we all resort to instinctive/rehearsed behavior in crises.
  • Rule #3: No matter how good your recovery plans, you'd better invest in getting your team on the same page and actually wanting to have each other's backs. When your stern is flipping over your bow and people are clinging to nets 40+ feet in the air, you can't fake watching out for each other. You either really "have an eye on your mates" or you don't. And it's too late to have a discussion about that.
  • Rule #4: If you're pushing limits and stuff happens, the important thing is to learn fast and not let it derail the team from your ultimate purpose.

What other rules would you add?

PS If you're in a "safe harbor" kind of role/organization, why not pass this on to friends who are in boundary-pushing roles and ask for their input?