Monday, October 18, 2010

Bright Spots

I've recently been reading a book called Switch. The authors, Chip and Dan Heath, didn't know they had written a book about sailing. But I think they have...

The subtitle of the book is How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Personal change, family change, business change. Change is often hard. How can we make it happen? It's one of those easy-to-read books you pick up at airports to read on a long journey, full of fascinating anecdotes and a framework of pop psychology.

Of course, the major theme of this blog is the delusion that I can change to become a better sailor. So it's not surprising that as I read the book I was wondering if I could pick up any good ideas from Switch to help with my own personal quest for change.

One suggestion that Mr. and Mr. Heath (they are brothers I think) make early in the book is Find the Bright Spots. When faced with an apparently intractable problem, some situation that isn't going the way you want it to, ask the question, "Where are the bright spots? Are there any examples where things are going right? What's different about them? What can we learn from them?"

Mr. and Mr. Heath tell stories about how this technique was used to create desirable change in such diverse areas as solving the problem of childhood malnutrition in Vietnam, turning round a ninth-grader with serious behavioral problems at school, and helping a drug company find a way to market a supposed miracle drug that just wasn't selling well.

In every case the successful change agent went looking for the bright spots...

Are there any very, very poor kids who are bigger and healthier than the average Vietnamese child? What are these kids' mothers doing differently from the other mothers?

Is there even one class where that problem ninth-grader isn't always getting into trouble? What is the teacher of that class doing differently?

Are there are any sales staff who are selling more of that miracle drug than their peers? Turns out there were two saleswomen selling twenty times more. What on earth were they doing differently?

Powerful stuff. We don't always approach a problem in that way.

For example what is the normal advice on how to improve as a racing sailor? Find your weaknesses and then find ways to work on them and eliminate them. It's what Eric Twiname teaches in his classic book Sail, Race and Win. Just the opposite of Find the Bright Spots.

So, I thought, how can I apply this principle to my disappointing performance at the recent Laser Masters World Championships in England? Should I analyze how to deal with my general unfitness, and overall wimpiness, not to mention also being a crap sailor? No, no, no. That's the old way. That's focusing on the weaknesses, the supposed causes of the problem. Where are the bright spots?

Ummm. The beer in England was good.

Hmmm. Not very helpful.

What about my previous performances at Laser Masters Worlds? Did I do much better in one year than all the others? That would be a bright spot.

As it happens there was one such year. 2007. The Masters Worlds at Roses in Spain. I finished in the top half of the fleet instead of thrashing around with the tail-enders like I usually do. As I wrote in Semi-Respectable Mediocrity I just felt right from the first day that I had better boat speed than most of my opposition. Definitely a "bright spot".

So what was different about my preparation for the Worlds in 2007?

I moved house? Not likely to be the cause. In any case I'm not moving house every year just to do well in sailing regattas.

I ran a marathon in April? Hmmm. May have been a factor. But that was five months before the Worlds and I didn't run much during that summer, so I suspect that any residual fitness advantage had worn off by September.

I sailed more Laser regattas that year than in any other year in my life? I sailed major regattas and little regattas. In January I went to Cabarete in the Dominican Republic for a clinic and the Caribbean Midwinters. In June I sailed the Laser North Americans in Hyannis. I sailed the Newport Regatta and the Hyannis Regatta and the Buzzards Bay Regatta. I sailed the
Championship of Buzzards Bay and the Leukemia Cup. I sailed the New England Laser Masters and in the Ponce de Leon Series. In other words I sailed pretty much every Laser regatta on the local calendar against all the best local sailors and some top national sailors.

As opposed to this year where I sailed the Wickford Regatta and the Buzzards Bay Regatta and precious little else.

Geeze, do you think that could be it? Is it possible that racing a lot improves your racing ability, that sailing lots of regattas for a few months improves sailing fitness and boatspeed and strategy and tactics and all those other skills you need to do well in sailing races?


Sometimes I amaze myself.

I think I'll go to bed now.


Sam Chapin said...

Hey, are you getting older. Good post. Hang on to the bright spots. Maybe a coach? Join the Y...

Frankie Perussault said...

Take up pottery...

Tillerman said...

Take up pottery? Is that good training for Laser sailing?

Pat said...

As they say in that great chorus scene in Life of Brian,

"Always look at the bright side of life!"

bowsprite said...

what a (native german) illustrator friend said to me when I took up pottery: "Nooooo!!! please! don't throw your life away!"

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