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Stephanie Dearing


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Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?


I have rowed at 3 Olympic Games and 6 World Championships. While preparing for the 2000 Sydney Olympics the GB Men’s rowing 8+, we used the simple question ‘Will It Make The Boat Go Faster?’ to challenge everything we did. The question and the thinking behind it enabled the individuals involved to win the Olympic Gold Medal whilst being the weakest and least experienced crew in the event. In recent years my company has developed that story into a bestselling book and a performance programme to help individuals team and organisations raise expectations and improve performance. We take straight forward and simple ideas that have been road tested in Olympic sport and we apply them to business.

It seems that most people are busier than ever before. The amount that we need to manage at work, raising targets, change being the new norm and tighter margins - and that’s before most of us have started on family life and anything else that we want to do outside work. Maybe it’s because we are creatures of habit or maybe because we simply don’t have time to think, it seem as though many of us incredibly busy but we’re not necessarily doing the things to making out boats go faster. A lot of us are busy doing what’s in front of us. At a business show in early June we asked people what percentage of their time was really spent doing the things that were make a difference rather than just doing the hygiene factors to keep everything a float. Most people said that it was less that 50% of their time.

So how do we become more effective rather than just even busier?

Be very clear about what it is that you are trying to do. Whist rowing our goal was very clear, we had to perform at a certain time on a certain day. In business and life generally it’s not as simple as that and we use that as an excuse for not having clarity about what we are trying to do. Having a Crazy Goal™, something that really fires your imagination, something that you can be passionate about, something that you aspire to achieve gives you direction. You might even want a few Crazy Goals™ for different parts of your life.

  1. Know why you are trying to achieve your Crazy Goals™. When times get tough it is so important to know why you are doing what you are doing. ‘What’s in it for me?’. This might be recognition, a bonus that will allow you to do something you’ve wanted to do for some time, the promotion you’ve been after or pride. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it means something to you. Within a team you don’t need to what to get the same things out of achievement but knowing what others want to get is very helpful.
  2. Doing the right thing. Once you are clear on your direction you can really start to challenge what you are doing. Are you doing it because it’s what you’ve done before, it’s a habit or because it really makes a difference? Despite my Olympic experiences of challenging what we did every day, I find myself falling into giving the same reply to everything that I get asked to do – ‘yes’! Because I convince myself that everything might help make my boat go faster. I have recently started trying a different answer. Working out what not to do is very often harder but so critically important to success.
  3. Doing the right things better – focus on performance. We often get performance and results confused. They are however very different. Results are what you get following a series of actions. Performance dictates the actions you take and how well you execute them. In sport results are very clear, you win or lose yet you don’t often hear sports people talk about them. Tennis players, golfers and many others in their post game interviews just talk about how they performed. Their careers are determined by their results yet they seldom talk about them. After a sales call or meeting, after an internal meeting people often talk about their results. Try talking about how you performed. How did you actually perform in the meeting – how well did you bring others in? What were your most effective questions? Which phase or series of sentences really made the penny drop? Spending a few minutes reviewing how well you performed will give a huge amount of ammunition so that you know where to improve next time.
  4. Bull***t filters. Maintaining your energy in the pursuit of excellence can be hard if you are surrounded by naysayers, mood hoovers and energy vampires. Developing strong bull***t filter to block out the unhelpful news and information can help you stay on track. In the run up to my last Olympics there were countless people telling us that we couldn’t do it, we weren’t strong enough or experienced enough. Listening to them was not helpful when it came to developing our belief in what we were planning to do. Are there certain people that you need to have you bull***t filters on when talking to? Or others where you need to avoid topics of conversation? Be proactive about who and what you listen to and what you read. Is it going to help you make your boat go faster?
  5. Bouncebackability. Whilst planning for success it is also worth thinking about what you will do if you don’t get what you want. The ability to bounceback from setbacks can give you a commercial advantage, as well as less stressful existence. There are three simple steps. Prepare, Accept and Do - chapter 10 in my book take you through these steps in more detail.
  6. Get help. A lot of what most of us need to be more effective is fairly obvious and straight forward. A lot of it is fairly easy to do but equally it’s also easy not to do it. Who are the people, colleagues, friends or coaches who can keep you on track and performing more effectively with every week that passes? Build a team of people around you who can help you perform better and better each month.

At Will It Make the Boat go Faster? Ltd we have built a performance programme to help put these principles in to practice. This programme can be run for companies or you can attend as an individual at one of our open workshops. Please look at our website to find out more.

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Stephanie Dearing

Assistant Web Producer

Read more from Stephanie Dearing

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