Think like a Tugboat

Image: Wikipedia
Almost twenty years ago, my family and I lived in paradise.

Imagine a place where you could go skiing, sailing and golfing... all in the same day.

Imagine a place of friendly people, stellar mountains, blue oceans, and lush green forests... where it rained 300 days a year, but when the sun shone, everything could seem right in the world.

Of course I'm talking about Vancouver British Columbia.

There were things you could see in Vancouver you would never see in other parts of the country (including 6 inch long crawling slugs but I digress... You can tell I don't work for BC tourism).  

Vancouver is a port city, and as such the never ending business of a port provides a delightful cacophony of activity.

If you've been to Vancouver, you will be familiar with Lions Gate bridge - which looks a lot like San Francisco's Golden Gate bridge. It is a Canadian historic site, but is also a major traffic artery between the cities of Vancouver and North Vancouver.

On occasion, the US Navy would bring one of their aircraft carriers into the port.  This was a big deal for the locals since we didn't often get a chance to see a craft that big (the Canadian Navy IS jealous) and secondly, the highest part of the ship's antennas were just a few metres lower than the maximum clearance afforded by the Lions Gate bridge.  It had to happen at the lowest tide, with favourable conditions (you notice my spelling is very Canadian today), with the bridge cleared of traffic and was much like threading a needle with an incredibly large object.

The magic was in a collection of ugly little boats - the tugs. In a carefully orchestrated dance, this small fleet of vessels went out into English Bay to meet the aircraft carrier.  Each would take up a predetermined position against the hull of the ship, and start pushing. 


For all intents and purposes, it didn't look like much was happening. 

But there was.

Image: MS Office Imagebank
Each tug was pushing in its own spot, but collectively they were moving the large ship in the desired direction.

Somehow the large carrier went under the bridge in exactly the right location.  

Like magic.

Or well executed technology.

Most of the change we implement as leaders is not drastic, sudden, or exciting.

But consistent, intentional and with an outcome in mind.

So, think like a tugboat when it comes to leading change initiatives.

Don't give up.  

Get your team working to their strengths - driving to achieve each of their individual objectives - which together contribute to the overall objective.

It is a practice of discipline - a constant, continuous effort in the same direction.

Everyone knows their role.

This is the kind of change initiatives that stick.  That have lasting results.

So two items to remember from today's post:

- If you haven't been to Vancouver yet, be sure to put it on your bucket list, and

- Think like a tugboat.


  1. I live in Vancouver - well Port Moody actually - 12 miles east - still on the Pacific Ocean. We do have large slugs and plenty of rain but when the sun shines everybody thinks better. Making an effort to look at things in a different way is very important in a rapidly changing world. Often people are so close to a problem or issue that they do not really think at all - they are just on auto pilot. Almost every situation can be improved, fixed or abandoned with just a hint of thinking in a different way - be creative and you never know what will pop up to really make a difference. As Kevin knows - often Hot Spicy Food and Cold White Wine can be a terrific catalyst for brilliant innovation - on almost any kind of topic - if in Vancouver drop by and we can test my theory - www.atthebeachretreat.com

  2. Great to hear from you! (Disclaimer: This person is a great friend and proof that more than my mother reads my blog posts)

    You have reminded me of another crucial survival skill - Hot food and cold white wine... which is really an excuse to gather with kindred minds and spirits in a place away from the normal bustle and dream about the things that could be.

    I can personally attest to (and recommend) Nick & Lise's B&B (www.atthebeachretreat.com) as a place where it's easy to get away and dream.

  3. Hi Kevin, i liked the part about team working to strengths. There is a great book/exercise http://www.strengthsfinder.com/home.aspx. Do you know it?
    Also, one add to your IT best practices is mentoring. I like this article, especially the do's and don'ts: http://www.bankinfosecurity.com/articles.php?art_id=4132

  4. Elaine,


    Thanks for the comment and the recommendations.

    I am indeed familiar with the StrengthsFinder tool, and have used it extensively in personal and team development. I will be discussing it further in a future posting.