I recently read The Boys in the Boat, a birthday gift from daughter #1, and a recent #1 NY Times Bestseller by David James Brown. If you’re not familiar, it’s about the University of Washington spoiling a gold medal sweep in the 1936 Olympics by Hitler’s Germany. The Huskies’ eight-man crew team won the gold in a three-boat photo finish, that was too close to call for many minutes. The book is set in 1920’s and -30’s America, reeling from not only the Great Depression, but the Dust Bowl just a few years later. That was unquestionably the most challenging, hardscrabble period that our country has ever endured. It follows a particular athlete who grew up largely alone, abandoned by his father, stepmother, and younger siblings, to fend for himself from age thirteen. What makes the book more intriguing and applicable to our construction business blog here, are the numerous back-stories involving a shared philosophy, work ethic, common goal, teamwork, and commitment to all of those. Not the smallest of those attributes is the inherent trust in one another, the belief and knowledge that you’re not rowing the boat alone. Only with selfless teamwork and utter faith in each other, do you have a chance to meet the shared goal.
Yet eight totally committed, selfless, even brilliant athletes weren’t enough however. The team still needed a resident philosopher to inspire, a coach to assess talent and make tough decisions, and someone to steer the boat and keep on course. And oh-by-the-way, those eleven individuals also had to turn on a dime, and throw the whole game plan overboard given unexpected circumstances, and react correctly in the blink of an eye. (And we thought construction was challenging!) While the parallels between a well-organized company, office staff, and construction crew should be obvious by now, the missing ingredient is the “swing.”
To quote from page 161, The Boys in the Boat, ” … There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. Others find it but can’t sustain it. It’s called “swing.” It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action— each subtle turning of wrists— must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman, from one end of the boat to the other. Only then will the boat continue to run, unchecked, fluidly and gracefully between pulls of the oars. Only then will it feel as if the boat is a part of each of them, moving as if on its own. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation. Rowing then becomes a kind of perfect language. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like…it’s a thing they’ll never forget as long as they live.”
Has your company found its Swing?