It may be time to change course.

I am a sailor. I owned a 49′ sailing yacht for twelve years. Once while sailing on my planned course, the weather and wind changed dramatically and I found I was having a horrible time holding my course. I also found that my passengers were not happy since this course was at least making them uncomfortable due to the extreme motions of the boat, and at the most making them seasick. Our lovely outing was turning into a regrettable experience. Something had to change.

One of the things you learn as a sailor is to take what the weather gives you — don’t stubbornly stick to your course when there’s a better alternative. Yes, you must start out with a plan. But you must be ready and willing to change, both for the comfort and safety of all onboard and the material condition of the vessel. If there’s an alternate course that will get you to your destination and help your passengers enjoy the experience more and prevent damage to your boat, then you take it.

Charting A New Course In Business And Life

If you one day realize that the course you are on, whether in business or life, is not working you must consider changing your course or direction. To keep the same course could be detrimental to your people and your business.  Here are my tips when a course change is needed:

1. Gain New Perspective. You first need to change how you see things. As a sailor, I needed to go to my charts and see the bigger picture; what navigational hazards are around me, how much room do I have, what are the clouds and weather indicating, how much time do I have before it gets too dark? You can see the similarities between my sailing example and what you must do for your situation. All these things will give you a picture you may not be seeing currently. Also, put yourself in the place of all stakeholders and ask, “How might they see things?”

2. Understand The Problem. Now that you’ve broadened your perspective and are hopefully seeing things more comprehensively, take the time to make sure you understand what you’re looking at — that you know the real problem. For example, you may have heard the joke about the two hikers running from a hungry grizzly bear. One of them suddenly stops and begins putting on sneakers. The other, thinking him crazy, yells at him for picking this moment to change shoes. The hiker who was putting on the shoes replies, “You don’t understand the problem. I only have to outrun you, not the bear.” Make sure you understand the real problem. It may not be obvious.

3. Find The Opportunity. With every problem comes an opportunity. Look for the vulnerability, the gap or deficiency. What would solve the problem? How well situated are you to respond to it? What would it take to be in a good position to respond? What would it cost? How long would it take to develop this capability? What are the risks? These and other questions should be asked to properly understand the opportunity.

4. Develop Your Plan. Get your best and brightest talent together and build your plan. Cost it out. Wargame it (test it). Identify the risks and the corresponding mitigation strategies. Weigh the alternatives.

5. Commit And Change Course. If you decide on a specific course change,  don’t flip-flop back and forth. Until some obvious condition changes the situation making it no longer a good course, you and your people must commit and maintain this new course. Make sure you give your new direction time to produce the desired results. Don’t abandon it too quickly. By the same token, don’t ride it all the way to the bottom, either.

Be Prepared To Adjust Your Course

Rarely will you ever make a single course change and “set it and forget it.” You will most  likely have to make small corrections as things develop to stay on course. And you may have to go back to the first step of the list above and start again if the conditions change drastically. But with a watchful eye, an open mind, and a solid team alongside you, you’ll weather the business and life storms very well.

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Author Wayland Coker

My goal is to help entrepreneurs learn as much as they can about themselves and their businesses, and the vital connection between the two. I don’t intend this to be a monologue, but a dialogue. Please give me your feedback in the comment sections located at the bottom of each article. I will read every comment and respond as I am able. I am looking forward to connecting with you!

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