Paul's Blog

The 5 Lessons I learned about Business whilst Sailing Around the World…
Posted 22 November 2018 by Paul Adamson

Huh…! What can sailing teach you about business?

When I skippered Lush around the world for the founder of Jordan Grand Prix and serial Entrepreneur Eddie Jordan, I learned many key business insights and strategies that I never would have found on land.

This trip was this opportunity to step outside of the norm and see things in a different light,

Here are the top 5 insights that you may find useful:

1: Keep Things In Perspective

I remember sailing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was 3AM and I arrived onto watch exhausted. I was on deck alone, and I was feeling grumpy.

But then I thought, “Wait a second, who’s this grumpy so-and-so?”

“You are sitting, right now, on a stunning yacht. You’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You’re looking out at the universe, and you’re grumpy! This is ridiculous!”

It was pitch black and you could see the Milky Way in all of it’s beautiful colours. You felt you could touch the stars. It was absolutely mind blowing & incredible.

In that moment, I thought: “Wow, I am so small in the ‘grand scheme’ of things. I’m not even a speck of dust on this yacht in comparison.”

What I realised in that moment is that all the day-to-day stuff that we get worked up about isn’t what’s real…

We only ever have to look up at the stars that have been here for hundreds of millions of years to see what is real.

The ability to be able to put things into perspective is so useful in business and likewise in life! It can be very easy to get locked into a problem, but you’ve got to step outside the problem to solve it.

People often make a problem much bigger than it really is, when in reality it is just another issue that you will be able to solve.

Sailing has taught me the skill to keep things in perspective and to, ‘See it as it is…but not worse than it is!’

2: Keep Yourself Calm

When the pressure is on you must stay calm. This is something I first learned from teaching sailing to beginners.

Your student is already nervous. So if you start getting jumpy around them because you think they’re going to crash or do something wrong, they will in turn get jumpy. And guess what? The very thing you ‘didn’t want’ to happen….happens!!

In times of stress, I’ve learned to stay calm. As well as creating a supportive environment for people to learn in, it also helps me make informed as opposed to rash decisions.

Sailing taught me how to weather storms. On the ocean, it’s all about battening down the hatches, reefing the sails, and being able to alter course and sail around the storm.

This sense of ‘Keep calm no matter what’ is easily transferred into your business.

3: Flexibility: Your Ultimate Power

If ever I meet anybody who’s struggling in life, be it sailing yachts, running a business, in a relationship, being a parent or anything else, it’s because they’ve got locked into rigidity. They think that there is the only way to do something and succeed.

The truth is, life is not like that. Nothing is straight.

Nature is a great example of this. If you look at a tree, it’s not straight. If you extend your little finger and look at it, you’ll see that’s not even straight!

Why do I make that point?

As a leader, in a team, as a person, I really believe that your results directly reflect your ability to be flexible. Meaning, your ability to look at other ways to do things and not get locked into ‘there is only one way to do this…’

This becomes obvious when you cross an ocean on a yacht. You might think, “Okay, I’m going to sail from the Canaries to Antigua, and it’ll either be a great circle route or a straight-line.”

The truth is, it’s not. Things get in the way. Weather. Boat maintenance. And you’ve got to remain flexible and willing to alter your course at any moment.

I’ve also learned flexibility from teaching sailing for many years. You have to understand that what works for teaching one person won’t necessarily work for the person sitting next to them.

As a leader, this is crucial for growing good relationships between you and your team! Remember, ‘Different Strokes for Different Folks’

4: Own Your Mistakes

Possibly the most important lesson sailing has taught me is admitting when I’m wrong.

In business, people tend to think that being wrong means they’re less of a leader. But the truth is being wrong means that they’re still human!

When you’re sailing, there really isn’t anywhere to hide when you mess up. So you learn to be comfortable talking about your mistakes.

But in every situation, people will eventually realise that you have messed up. You pretending otherwise will just lead to a loss of respect from your team.

On the other hand, owning up to your faults creates respect and takes you off a false leadership plinth. This in turn helps you create and nurture a true team. A team where everyone backs each other! It’s this type of team that ultimately succeeds no matter what!

5: Marry The Truth

Wherever you want to go, you can get there. The only thing stopping you is the story you’re telling yourself about why you can’t.

This is something I realised when thinking about navigation. If I’m on a yacht sitting in the Canaries and we’re going to Antigua, I need to know where I’m actually starting from. I need to know I’m in the Canaries. There’s no point in BS’ing myself and saying, “No, I’m in Sydney. No problems over here.”

If I try to navigate to Antigua pretending to myself I’m in a completely different place to where I actually am, I’ll never get there.

Many people in business lie to themselves to where they actually are, not wanting to admit that they’re further or closer to their goal than they would like.

But actually, the truth will set you free!

Once you know where you are, you can make a practical plan that you can execute to get you to where you want to be.

To me, there’s no difference between sailing a yacht around the world and running a successful business

Think about it. You have a skipper, a leader, a CEO. You have a navigator, which could translate to a company strategist. Every team member is working to get the that boat from A to B, to push the company towards its goals. And if you take any one of those individuals out of the equation, or any of them become demotivated, the yacht sails off course and the company can founder.

That’s why, even though it may seem (literally!) a million miles away from day-to-day working life, sailing the world has so much to teach us about running a successful business.

I use these insights that I learned while circumnavigating the globe every day as Oyster Yachts’ CCO, and they have been invaluable right through my career.

Hopefully, they will be just as useful to you.

To Your Ultimate Success,

Paul 🙂