Friday, 5 September 2014

CHARTING A COURSE


The holidays are over, some of us went sailing. 

When we set sail we know where we want to go, we want to go there - wherever ‘there’ is - the finish line, the good restaurant - it depends on what kind of sailor you are. To get there we are constantly responding to external changes, seeking to achieve optimum performance by balancing multiple variables - adjusting sails to capture wind coming at us from shifting directions at different speeds, we’re trimming and balancing the vessel, avoiding sideways drift, always mindful of tides and currents, safety procedures and rules of the sea.

We are responsive, adaptive to shifting realities whilst remaining clearly goal focussed. We expect, and are prepared for, change and uncertainty.

In today’s volatile world this approach is a valuable guiding principle. We know we need to achieve cost certainty and low emission shipping. We need to get over ‘there’. We know we need to build ships that will be viable in 30 years or more time and yet we don’t know what will happen to trade patterns, to oil prices, labour and emission regulations.

We can be certain of one thing only - things will change.

We’ve become accustomed to deploying cheap fossil fuels to drive a predetermined linear course to the future but both price volatility and emission regulation mean that this era is drawing to a close. The future is no longer as certain - global conflict, climate change, population growth, changing and burgeoning consumer demand and scarce resources all leads to economic, and environmental, volatility.

As every good racing sailor knows stormy weather provides the best opportunity to steal the lead. In the commercial storm we face we must learn how to adapt and respond to keep ahead of the fleet.

The one thing every sailor can be certain about is: there will always be wind. Today, tomorrow, 30 years hence. It may blow from different directions, with different strengths and speeds but we can harness it. To make up any propulsion shortfall we can augment that power with other renewable fuels - maybe bio-diesel, maybe bio-gas, solar possibly. There are a whole host of other complementary technologies available to minimise fuel use - hull coatings, large area propellers, smart routing systems for instance.

Allowing the complexity and myriad of decisions we have to make to paralyse us means we never set sail. Expecting things to ‘get back to normal’, believing in a ‘recovery’ is a denial that should be left on the shore.

The question isn’t - should we act? It’s - how best can we respond to these inevitable changes? Our responses will dictate who crosses the line first - or who bags the table with the best view.

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