Effective communication is a key to success in business, as it is in life. Today's information technology explosion offers many different ways to communicate, but sometimes the technology gets in the way. And sometimes, time away from the office offers the best chance to learn something new, or refresh things we need to remember.
Alpha. Bravo. Charlie. Delta. Echo.
I thought it would be fun to teach my granddaughter the phonetic marine alphabet. We spent a lot of time on the boat this summer, and she was fascinated with the ‘old fashioned’ ways still used to communicate. She was also interested in the maps I still use, the compass, and interpreting all the nautical markers on land and sea. I was equally fascinated that someone her age would be so interested in all those things – her generation has grown up with “gigabytes of data” on cell phone plans, google maps, and a host of other technologies that I personally consider overly broad and way too shallow.
Boats today have bow thrusters, stern thrusters, pod drives, joy stick controls, and GPS systems that will steer them away from danger and actually right to dock itself, automatically. (Where’s the fun in that?) My boat is not that complicated and docking still requires some skill, and some assistance from someone on the dock to catch a line, especially when the wind is blowing.
“Copy that: whiskey one seven, stern in, port side tie up. Over.” Now it was just a matter of negotiating a couple turns and a tricky little 270 degree maneuver in a tight space in front of the intended dock. With a simple radio confirmation of the previous instruction, everyone was all set; my granddaughter knew her role, as did the runner on dock W-17 there to catch my line. It was a windy day, and we’d have one chance to get it right. If not, we’d be driven into the dock, or perhaps other boats. It wouldn’t be catastrophic if we failed, but it would definitely leave a mark, and the goal is always to leave as few new marks on the fibreglass hull as possible.
Foxtrot. Golf. Hotel. India. Juliet.
She never had too much trouble with the first 10 letters, but I found it amusing that she didn’t know what “foxtrot” meant. I told her it was an old dance, and that there’d be another dance used in another letter later on. Similarly, Juliet would also have a natural partner in the marine alphabet. Just a couple hints to help remember the weird collection of words.
She threw out the stern line at the perfect time, and the dock runner caught it. So far so good.
Kilo. Lima. Mama. November. Oscar. Some use “Mike” instead of “mama”, but my preference is “mama” because it pairs up nicely with “papa”, the next word in the sequence. Each one of the 26 words is specifically chosen so that it doesn’t sound like any other word. Some are one syllable, most two, and some three. None of them rhyme with each other, and I learned this summer, that most mariners use the same phonetic alphabet, regardless of their language.
Papa. Quebec. Romeo. Sierra. Tango, which is the other old dance my granddaughter didn’t know. After that, comes Uniform, but some prefer to use Utah.
The dock runner caught the line and put a quick hitch on the nearest cleat, allowing me to use my engines to gently nudge the bow towards to dock, close enough to toss the bow line. One minute later, the engines were off and we were securely tied, with no new scuff marks to buff out.
My vacation has been over for several weeks now, but these thoughts stayed with me. It was as fun for me to teach the basics as it was for my granddaughter to learn them, but there is another valuable lesson in there as well. We have so many layers of information technology available to us - and I don’t just mean cell phones, emails, texts and computers. We have different virtual meeting rooms, document sharing platforms, software to schedule meetings and book rooms, and all sorts of special apps for coordinating business communications, not to mention social media. Everyone seems to get cc’d to everything. Some are tempted to call all of this information, but I think of it as mostly noise. I have missed really important messages because they are buried by dozens of unimportant messages heaped on top of them, or, because I was not using the same new ‘handy’ tool or app someone else chose to use to send me that message. To me, anything that keeps me from hearing what is critical for me to hear is not information, its noise.
Advanced information technology is good, but it’s important to remember the basics. Effective communication is not just an exchange of information, it’s making sure what needs to be known is known by those that need to know it, in a timely manner. More information technology doesn’t automatically result in better communication; it can have the opposite effect. Effective communication is concise, relevant, accurate and timely. (How does your information technology fit that description?)
Victor. Whiskey. X-Ray. Yankee. Zulu. Communications are important in business and in life, and it’s never a bad thing to revisit and review the basics. “Thanks for the docking assist Lake City. This is ‘Time-A-Weigh’, over and out.”
Paul Hogendoorn is co-founder of FreePoint Technologies. “Measure. Analyze. Share.” (Don’t forget to share!) He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.getfreepoint.com