Vern Burkhardt, an award-winning business leader and passionate long distance sailboat racer (try Hawaii to Victoria, BC, on the big empty sea), contributes to the online innovation digest Idea Connection. I met him in January in Vancouver at the Web Directions North conference, just before the book was published. He was interested in the book and wanted to publish a review. What resulted, after we got him a copy, was this blended interview/review. I think it answers some questions about aligning planned product features with customer behavior, organizations learning to listen to customers, lessons I’ve learned about practitioners, and we talk about the publishing model as well.
For those of you who are sailing aficionados (and I know at least Camille will want to read this), here’s what Vern says about his long distance races.
“It is wonderful being offshore; the sailboat is a very small island in a very large ocean. I find it almost spiritual, with changing sea conditions, changing water and sky, sunrises, sunsets, and wildlife from time to time (a whale, dolphins, a shark, and once or twice per day — not every day, an albatross). Racing and sailing around the clock, I have to keep the crew happy (watch for and ensure any strife or conflict are addressed to ensure no lingering impact on teamwork). And there are always things to do, such as repairing “things” that break on the boat, repairing sails that tear, navigating, drawing down weather faxes via Iridium satellite telephone or Single Side Band radio, planning race strategy, daily communication with the race committee, plotting position hourly, re-charging batteries, cooking, and too much else to mention.
“It is definitely not for everyone; one is out of sight of land for a long time. The Offshore Racing Regulations for Category 1 (our race) requires the boat, crew and safety equipment to be such that the crew can survive for a “prolonged period of time” without rescue. At one point we are more than 1,000 nautical miles from the nearest land, other than about 7 miles straight down to the bottom of the ocean.
“One gains a great deal of respect for the power of the ocean. I have been in storm force winds several times — the longest was for 36 sustained hours of winds 55 mph with gusts much higher. Fortunately I have not experienced hurricane force winds in the race nor on the return. One has to be alert and properly drive the boat to ensure one does not get flipped over or suffer damage. It kind of keeps one focused. And most importantly, since I usually have relatively inexperienced crew on the return (I have even had a crew member who stepped onto a sailboat for the first time when we left Honolulu) one has to ensure that not only is it a learning experience for the crew but also that they do not loose confidence in the skipper. I truly believe that there are biological differences in the threshold for tolerating stress before adrenalin kicks in. I find it exciting just to think about it, and it is more than a “think.” A lot of work goes into preparing for the race.”