Responding to Forces Beyond Our Control
Sometimes we need to listen to our primordial selves
“We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea—whether it is to sail or to watch it—we are going back whence we came.” — John F. Kennedy, 1962
Have you ever been to the beach and picked up a shell large enough to put up to your ear and to listen to it?
As much as we would like to think we’re hearing sounds of the ocean, it’s simply seashell resonance — the sound of ambient noise in a concave enclosure.
But the romantic notion of hearing the ocean in a shell has some magic about it. The proximity of the shell to the seaside makes it all the more appealing and believable.
This myth is similar in structure to the old yarn that the salinity of the ocean and of blood are of a similar percentage (they are not, in fact). Yet we still find these tales circulating.
Humans have always been drawn to the sea and stories about it. We flock to the coast for idealized living and for vacations. Did you know that more than 85 percent of Australia’s population lives within 50 km of the coast? 1
The lure of the coast is inescapable.
And this is even with threats to the eternally changing coasts — something that’s been happening since the continents first began tectonic shifts.
The ongoing change of the seas and their coasts are constant and volatile, a combination of conditions that range from predictable cycles to unexpected and sudden events.
And we have had to learn to deal with its various states as we enjoy it and live off of it.
We accept the reality, which includes risks as well as rewards.
The fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts have always known this. If you happen to find yourself in Gloucester Harbor, you’ll undoubtedly see the Fisherman’s Memorial.
The sculpture features a lone fisherman at the wheel, looking out into the harbor (and is not to be confused with the Gorton’s fisherman, even though Gorton’s, creator of the fishstick, was founded in Gloucester). It is a monument to the more than 10,000 men who lost their lives to the trade in its first 300 years — including 249 men in 29 vessels in the year 1879 alone.
Fishing is a dangerous trade, as the fate of the Andrea Gail can attest, after sinking when unexpectedly finding itself at the intersection of three huge weather systems, as featured in Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm.
The potential reward of a massive catch was what the crew was willing to sacrifice as they raced against time and nature.
“He who commands the sea has command of everything.” — Francis Bacon, c. 1600
In business, we take on risks every day. In normal times, these risks include acquisitions, new hires, and gutsy campaigns.
Now we have leaders making decisions about whether to require employees to return to the office, get vaccinated, or wear masks.
Leaders acknowledge that there will always be some elements that are out of our control. The best we can do is assemble our teams, prepare ourselves for any likely scenario, and keep our spirits up as we work together.
You Know Who Else Takes Risks?
My friend Jay, that’s who.
He’s someone who puts himself out there, every week—sharing his experiences, his successes (there are many), and even his failures (there are fewer of these) to inspire other people.
History’s great thinkers move us to action, even today. Why? They speak to us on an emotional, human level. They put themselves out there. They learned how to resonate.
As business leaders, we mostly spend time learning to grow reach and revenue, but it all starts with resonance. That feels ineffable, but it’s not. It’s a craft. It’s a skill. It can be learned.
That’s the subject of Jay’s free newsletter each week. After his years at ESPN, Google, and HubSpot, Jay has been studying what it takes to create an audience’s favorite things—to resonate deeper, grow our businesses, and leave our legacies. I love what he’s doing and wanted to suggest you watch his video, read a sample, or subscribe.
A Word About This Week’s Image2
In 1749, 14–year–old Brook Watson was attacked by a shark while swimming in Havana Harbor. John Singleton Copley’s pictorial account of the traumatic ordeal shows nine seamen rushing to help the boy, while the bloody water indicates that he lost his right foot.
The rescuers’ anxious expressions and actions reveal both concern for their thrashing companion and a growing awareness of their own peril. Time stands still as we, along with the sailors, are forced to ponder Watson’s fate.
Miraculously, Brook Watson esacaped almost certain death and went on to become a successful British merchant and politician.
Although Copley underscored the scene’s tension and immediacy, these poses actually were based on art historical precedents. The harpooner's pose, for example, recalls Raphael’s altarpiece of the Archangel Michael using a spear to drive Satan out of heaven.
The oil painting’s enormous acclaim ensured Copley’s appointment to the prestigious Royal Academy, and he earned a fortune selling engravings of its design.
Unfortunately, by the 1790s his powers had started to decline and in the new century his work was considered unfashionable. He died of a stroke, debt-ridden, in 1815.
How quickly the tides and sands shift, moving us in ways that are beyond our control.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.