Before I start, just let me say, I am not a sailor. In fact being one of those humans with middle-ear issues, my experience with anything that goes with the flow has been known to involve something decidedly, and messily, unpleasant. I have, however, nothing but admiration for those who choose, (and have the stomach for) sailing. In fact, I’m slightly jealous of them. There is a certain kind of freedom associated with living out on the open water. It offers experiences that go beyond the imagination of the ordinary landlubber. And, it proffers the kind of education that expands the worldview in a way that no bricks and mortar educational institution could match.
Witness Tristan Bridge, a thirteen year-old sailor and writer who produced this remarkable essay:
I am born from days without seeing land, those days when the horizons seem to blend into one another. I am from the swells of the ocean rocking me to sleep; then I wake up and I’m not quite sure which country I’m in. I am from those hours when the world seems to pause finally stopping to catch a breath. I am from the most isolated settings, places that have yet to feel the taint of human interference. I am an adolescent of the world, born from the simplicity of life, caught somewhere in between passive existence and the struggles of mortality.
Exploring by Cheval, my family’s Outremer 55 catamaran, is a way of existence. We are the people with an unquenchable desire for answers. We are the people who truly have no bounds. The world unfolds at our hands – a mixture of peoples, a mixture of every lifestyle. There are no boundaries to our curiosity. We live only to cross the next horizon, to set foot on the next continent. Our shoes have trod the corners of life. We flourish in the secluded portions of our globe, and we retain experiences from each place we visit. Our planet has much to offer; many possibilities await us. Out at sea, anything can happen; places exist that seem beyond the imagination, and there are people to meet who define kindness. I challenge you to immerse yourself in cultures and learn the traditions of our world. Cast off the chains of immobility, because there’s something beyond your door”
We may not all be sailors. But what this passage says to me is that we can all be explorers of one kind or another. And, if you are a leader in any capacity and haven’t yet thought beyond the boundaries of your balance sheet, you may be wise to better develop the muscle that will stimulate your own “unquenchable desire for answers”.
You should do this because the world is small and you will need to understand what’s going on in it if you are going to survive. That sounds dramatic, I know. But, more and more I’m noticing that success, and happiness too, depend on people being able to work together effectively. It’s so much easier to do that if you can bring empathy and wisdom that comes from varied experience to the table.
That’s the philosophy anyway. And, from the level of maturity and intelligence that emanates from Tristan Bridge, it is a pretty sound one.
On a more practical level, aside from setting sail to places unknown, how might more leaders widen their own worldview and provide similar opportunities for those who follow them?
Well, not being short on opinions, I have some thoughts about that and here they are:
Read widely and encourage others to do the same ~. This may sound like a given but in my observation, those who read a wide variety of material seem better able to make bigger picture connections. I’m not talking about just reading business books. While those can be helpful in building skill, to achieve more worldly understanding I think you have to read other kinds of books too including novels, biographies and history books, magazines and newspapers. As well, for those who prefer visual learning, there are a great many excellent films that serve to open eyes and provoke thought. All these provide much insight into human nature, trends and patterns of behaviour.
Honour Diversity ~ This speaks to Tristan’s challenge to “immerse yourself in cultures and learn the traditions of the world”. It’s not easy, this diversity thing. We are creatures of habit. We like structure. We are fond of our opinions and our biases. And yet, there is much to be learned from seeking to understand other perspectives and from being curious about how the world works for someone else. It helps us build empathy and while empathizing does not equal agreeing it can help us to soften the edges of our rigidity and open doors to things we may not have considered before.
Engage people whose experience is deeper and richer than the content of their resumes ~ Some leaders will seek solely to hire those whose academic credentials will meet, or even exceed, job requirements. While this certainly has to hold weight in hiring decisions, those who bring rich life experience to the table often prove to be better decision-makers and problem-solvers than those who don’t.
The bottom line is that success in these times depends on our ability to reach beyond our current level of understanding about the world and about each other. Whether we choose to sail to far-flung places or find other ways to expand our knowledge, we must reach out and explore beyond our own particular doors.
That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?
*Originally published in December 2012