Of lee shores, encyclopedias and knowing what you don’t know

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Longtime Soundings contributing writer Mike Saylor has a way of distilling subjects to their essence.

Take his rules of seamanship. “Don’t sink the boat,” Mike once wrote. “Don’t run her aground. Get to where you are going and return with the same crew you started with — and all in one piece.”

Mike had another keen observation about safety at sea that I often think of in other contexts, including business.

Let me set it up. Mike had been asked to help deliver a sailboat to Belize, but he didn’t like the route the owner was insisting on. The owner had been sailing on Long Island Sound for more than 20 years, which made him experienced, right? Yes and no.

“He essentially mistook one year of the same inshore experience repeated 20 times for experience on the open sea,” Mike wrote. “On the delivery, he was on a lee shore during a hurricane; it cost the life of a friend.”

We know what we know, as the saying goes. Where we often have more difficulty is in recognizing and acknowledging what we don’t know. We make assumptions based on our experiences, but what if those skills and observations and acquired knowledge are, like the late sailor’s, the same basic experiences and skill sets repeated over and over.

You need not look further than the disruption caused by either ignoring or not recognizing until it was too late the looming Web and digital lee shores.

In an interview with Soundings Trade Only this summer, Bryant Boats chairman John Dorton discussed targeting millennials. To help, he turned to a professor at a design school in the Detroit area with experience in the auto industry. He wanted to see what a class of 19- to 24-year-old design students would come up with. “I needed to know what their thinking was,” he told us at the time. Whether the boat floated or not was secondary.

“Right now you’ve got 50-year-old men trying to think like 20-year-olds, so I wanted to get their perspective,” he explained. “[Millennials] really don’t want their parents’ stuff.”

You may have 30 years of experience, but can you think like a 20-year-old? Are we plowing the same ground year after year because it’s what we know, because it worked in the past, because we’re comfortable with it?

As the video so humorously suggests, it’s easy to misread the smoke signals when you’re intent on seeing what you want to see.

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