Starfish and Submarines

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Starfish and Submarines

Black Belt Leadership
Starfish and Submarines
By: John Terry - The Black Belt Leader

I was catching up this week with a fellow entrepreneur I had not seen in some time, and he was intrigued when he saw I was reading Simon Sinek's "Leaders Eat Last" when he approached. I shared the basic premise of the book and what my immediate takeaways were from the first two chapters. He asked my advice on a leadership challenge he was facing in one of his businesses and we spent a few minutes talking through this issue and I offered some insights I hoped would be helpful.

As we talked about how "little things" (if left unaddressed) could compound and over time could have a negative impact on the team's productivity and morale, my friend shared an interesting story I thought illustrated this concept quite well. I'll relay it as best I can.

When submarines were first introduced into the Navy, it provided a speedy and stealthy way to move troops and weapons through the world's oceans. New submarines would launch from the docks and speed into the deep at speeds up to 29 knots. Within a year, these same submarines slowed to 27-28 knots at top speed. No one could explain it. A year or two later, the top speed dropped to 25-26 knots. Were the engines not being maintained?

Researchers soon discovered that as starfish attached themselves to the hull of the submarine, it increased the drag coefficient in the water, slowing the vessel's top speed. The irregular shape, caused by the increasing number of starfish clinging to the hull, made the ship less hydrodynamic in the water. It required more energy to move the ship forward.

Over time, as more starfish began to call the submarine home, speed suffered even more.

So the Navy sent divers into the water to remove the starfish and to be assured they would not return, they were cut in half as they were peeled from the hull.
What the Navy didn't realize at the time was the regenerative power of the starfish. If a starfish loses a limb, not only does it grow a new limb, the limb that was severed grows a completely new body. Two starfish now exist where one existed before. So you can imagine the outcome as these mangled starfish regenerated and multiplied, creating even more problems for the Navy and its submarines.

My friend was called away with a problem at one of his businesses, so we didn't get to finish the story, but I remained intrigued throughout the night thinking about the application in the business world and its impact on productivity, profitability, and morale.

Problems are a part of the human existence. The bigger issues seem to garner more attention, while the "little things" are often overlooked or ignored. Yet it is often the small, seemingly insignificant problems that attach themselves to an organization that begin to slow the wheels of progress, throttle back profitability, and create friction for the team.

The Navy made a mistake of using conventional wisdom to deal with the threat to their vessel's speed issue. Without taking the time to study the problem, and consider the effects of their actions in advance, they actually compounded the problem. Thus, the situation grew worse before a better solution was finally concocted and implemented.

Conventional wisdom can often be wrong. We often forget there is usually more than one way to solve a problem. We also tend to forget that what happened in the past, even it it worked, may not work a second time, or may not be the most efficient or effective way to actually solve the problem. As a result, the problem can re-emerge, or it can replicate and grow, becoming bigger and requiring more energy and effort to resolve.

Little things, if overlooked or ignored, can become bigger things that cause real problems.

There is almost always more than one answer to a problem, but you've got to think into the problem to find it. This is why thinking into your business is so vital to your long-term success. The thinking that got you to where you are in your business won't keep you there, nor will it continue to advance you further.

We get a new flu vaccine every year because the flu virus mutates, it changes, it doesn't stay the same. Problems, like a virus, can change - they can mutate. They can also, like a starfish, replicate themselves and multiply, becoming more of a nuisance than before.

Little things, if overlooked or ignored, can become bigger things that cause real problems.

One last thought on starfish. The Navy went for a period of time oblivious to the fact that starfish clinging to the hull of their ships were creating added drag and friction, slowing their vessels. A seemingly insignificant problem was slowly and methodically impacting the speed of these ships and for a long time, no one seemed to really notice. Engines were maintained, yet performance was slowly being impacted by a "little thing".

The ancient writer, Solomon, warned his readers to beware the "little foxes". Foxes were known to enter the vineyards and eat the grapes. Little foxes, not yet full-grown, often could not reach the delicate grapes hanging from the vines. Their solution, to chew away at the base of the vine, toppling the plant so the grapes could be more easily obtained.
The result? Productivity was impacted. The plant was destroyed and could no longer produce fruit. If enough vines in the vineyard were damaged or destroyed, the impact to the grower could be astronomical. A little thing, overlooked or ignored, can (over time) lead to a significant downturn in performance, productivity, and profitability.

Little things, if overlooked or ignored, can become bigger things that cause real problems.

There is a personal application here as well. The "little things" we permit in our life can (and will) compound over time and have a negative impact as well. Simple examples like not exercising, not eating properly, not staying hydrated, not getting sufficient rest, or not managing stress in our lives. All are "little things" that can have a profound impact on our health and productivity over time.

Little things, if overlooked or ignored, can become bigger things that cause real problems.

What are the starfish in your life? What are the "little things" you are overlooking or ignoring, that are negatively impacting your health, prosperity, and progress?

How much farther and faster could you go if these "little things" were no longer holding you back, dragging you down, and limiting your success?

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