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Episode 5: Creativity

Hi, I’m Mark Denton, a motivational keynote speaker sharing what I’ve learnt about Leadership and teamwork from being a skipper in the BT Global Challenge Round the World Yacht Race. One speech that’s gaining popularity right now is all about Resilience as it was one of the most important factors that not only kept us on the racecourse in one piece, but also competitive with the best in the fleet. And over the 10 months and 32000 gruelling miles we found out the perfect recipe to build it!

You see it’s often thought of as just being ‘tough minded’, but there’s way more to it than that. We identified 8 distinct factors that need to be in play to keep yourself and your team resilient. Building on the first 4 episodes here’s episode 5. It’s all about the importance of Creativity! To see the previous episodes, click here

So why is creativity the 5th factor? Well, that’s rooted in the well-worn phrase by Albert Einstein, who said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. And considering we were on a downward trend over the previous 2 legs it was time to shake things up.

Usually I had the 3 week stopovers all worked out in my head: Week 1 was all about putting the last leg to bed by recovering, cleaning and fixing the yacht before finally debriefing the performance. Week 2 was for seeing the local sights and catching up with family. Week 3 was about getting ready to go again – stocking up the boat with supplies, practising, forming strategy as we got closer to the start. However, here in Wellington even this needed challenging. So, I decided to do the next leg briefing right after the previous legs debriefing in week 1. That way we would have the whole of the stopover to put any ideas we came up with into action.

So, after a successful debrief, just when people were about to pack up their things I said, ‘so onto the next leg’. Surprise rippled around the room. “I’ve been thinking long and hard about what we should aim at, and it’s time to go bold. I think we should go for the win on the next leg but we’re never going to do it without making some changes. And the thinking for that starts now”. People put their things down and settled back into their seats. “What can we do differently or better to increase our performance? Any idea will get consideration, no suggestion a silly one, even if we tried it before as maybe we didn’t execute it well – let your minds run riot”

The suggestions came thick and fast and fell under 4 main headings that were our critical success factors; Saving weight, being better prepared, being better informed, and being more efficient at sailing the yacht.

Saving weight is important as the lighter the boat is the faster it goes – and it can always be taken to another level. Things like ‘cut the handles off the tooth brushes’ (they still work!),’leave everyone’s spare underpants on the dock’ (it’s only a 7 day leg!) and a host of other suggestions were proposed – and crucially accepted by all. We ended up taking 80 kg off the boat, equivalent to another crew member!

Preparation is everything – and the yacht was always meticulous, but as ever we were the weak link. One of the big things is that we operate a completely different model of working and sleeping offshore that allows us to operate continuously in 2 groups. The day is divided into 4 hours on, 4 hours off ‘watches’, and it takes a bit of getting used to and you end up feeling jet lagged for the first couple of days. So we decided to start the watches in-port 2 days before the start, so we’d be into the rhythm by the time we got out there and it did the trick beautifully.

Information is always power. The better researched we were, the less guess work we had to do. And fact is better than guesses! Our navigator Bill, went above and beyond, lynching the local ferry captain that sails the ferry between North and South Island to find out about the tides in the Cook Straight. And flew to Sydney to get his eyes on the harbour where the finish would be. We knew this leg was going to be competitive and it was quite probable that final positions could be played out within a few miles of the finish. And It’s a tricky place to sail with a lot of local factors to take into consideration. So, he bent every local sailing ear he could, to find out the best tactics.

Lastly efficiency. In a one design fleet where so many other things are equal it often just comes down to who carries out their manoeuvres quickest – changing direction or changing sails. And on this leg which was downwind, that means lots of spinnaker work. Spinnakers are the big and often colourful balloon sails you see on sailing pictures that catch the wind and pull the boat along. But on our yachts they were the size of 2 tennis courts with much potential to rip or wrap around the mast whenever we changed direction.

Basically, the more practice you get the better. But stopovers are busy and time is limited so we needed to look for new opportunities. And we found them in the corporate days we always did for our sponsor in the final week. Usually a leisurely affair, we decided to turn them into full on practice sessions – with guests on board. We sold it to them that they would be helping us win the next leg – and they were only too happy to help – and I’m sure had much more fun in the process! We also practiced the start line, probably 40 times before we had to hit it in earnest on start day as we knew that every metre would count. And psychologically, being over the start line first is always a good thing.

And that’s just what happened, and after some trials and tribulations over the next 7 days we also were first over the finish. Our success all down to our willingness to rip up the script and try something new. So that’s why Creativity is the 5th factor!

Top Tips to help you be Creative

  • Start with a bold goal to raise excitement and have something to get creative around

  • Make the environment conducive – any suggestion a good one

  • Don’t dismiss any idea until it’s been fully heard and understood

  • Throw some spaghetti – try some experiments and see which stick to the wall!

#creativity #resilience #leadership #race #teamwork #vision #goals #business

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