Nothing Great is Easy – in swimming or in business

Patrick Smith reflects on how his English Channel relay crossing route has parallels in the world of business
The English Channel swimmers amongst you – or those that study channel swimming – will recognise the quote of the headline as being attributed to Captain Matthew Webb. He was the first man to swim the Channel in 1875. Since then many more people have done it (although not as many as have scaled Everest) and I was involved in my own Channel crossing recently.
On 1 July I swam to France as part of a four-person relay team. We left from Samphire Hoe at 1:30am and 14 hours and 43 minutes later we reached France. I’ve never done it before and I loved it. I would heartily recommend it to anyone else. In fact I’ve already agreed to join a team again for next year.
I was lucky enough to be the lead swimmer and despite never having swum at night before it was a truly magical experience. But this article isn’t about me showing off (I’ve done that plenty elsewhere – http://bit.ly/crelay). Instead I want to talk about the route we took and how that applies to business.
As you can see from the route map we crossed in what can hardly be described as a straight line. We were of course looking for the shortest route and we knew where we were aiming for – the French coast – but it’s not always possible to proceed exactly as you hope.
You can plan as much as possible, but there will always be external factors that you can’t control. For a Channel swim they are the tides, the current, the weather and to a lesser extent the ‘traffic’. As you can see, they had the combined effect that created the wonderful ‘S’ shape that our route followed.
Instead of fighting against those external elements or moaning about your luck, or even blaming them for your failure, you can only become successful by adapting to them, working with them and never losing sight of your actual goal. You can only be blown off course if you allow yourself to be. Whereas if you know exactly where you are aiming for and constantly change and adapt your plans of how you are going to get there, then you’ll always be on course (even if it’s not the one you had originally intended).
From a Channel swim perspective this meant not getting downhearted as we got caught by the tides near the French Coast and spent two hours almost exclusively going sideways and not forward. It was frustrating as we were probably about 15 minutes away from having the tide sweep us into shore. But that didn’t happen and we had to spend another two hours out in the water (I was personally disappointed as I might have been the one to hit land if it had worked out). However, we just knuckled down and eventually reached France – our goal. 

Cross Channel Route