Still “swinging” after all these years…
Chief Executive Officer
As a longtime oarsman, rowing coach and entrepreneur, I’ve always considered the sport of rowing to be a metaphor for life. Whether building a company or rowing a race, the core principles of teamwork, strategy, commitment, trust, empowerment, balance and execution are essential attributes to successful outcomes and achieving a team’s mission.
Recently, I competed in my 25th Head of the Charles Regatta, which is the largest two-day regatta in the world, with 11,000 athletes rowing in over 1,900 boats in 61 events. This year’s event was extra special in that, for the first time in 31 years, our 1987 Pan Am gold medal lightweight four came back together to once again race as a crew. Preparing for this race, reuniting with my fellow oarsmen and reflecting on this wonderful sport inspired me to write a personal reflection on the similarities between crew and new venture creation.
In the world of rowing, there is a term called “swing”. Swing is an elusive feeling of near-perfection and synchrony among a crew. It is a state in which all rowers in a boat are in a “symphony of motion” and there is no wasted energy. In his Boston Globe article, “Rowing’s Search for Swing” author Michael Socolow referred to swing as the “great exultation” that is ephemeral and almost indescribable. It’s the challenge that keeps oarsmen rowing. Socolow goes on to state, “It’s the moment when the physical propulsion of a shell evolves into a metaphysical feeling of transcendence. This is the essence of crew.”
It’s not how hard you work, it’s how hard you work together.
A rowing team – and a successful business – needs more than a vision, mission, resources and talented people. They need team members in the right seats, working together and doing the jobs they’re most suited to do. For example, the Coxswain steers the boat and sets race strategy, the Stern Pair sets the pace for success, the Bow Pair in the front are responsible for the boat’s stability, and the Engine Room are the athletes in the middle of the boat responsible for the boat’s core power and propulsion.
In order to create swing, everyone must work together to balance the boat and have exact timing. Your hands must be at exactly the right height as you slide up to the catch. Each oar has to drop into the water at the exact same time. Everyone needs to pull with equal pressure. All the blades need to come out of the water and release in unison. Any deviation disrupts and slows the boat.
My freshman coach often told us, “The way power is applied is more important than how much power is applied.” We quickly learned that a smaller and less powerful crew with better technique, fitness and power application could beat bigger and stronger crews. In fact, pulling as hard as you can, without pulling together, actually slows the boat down. Imbalanced power will send the boat off course and throw off balance and the timing of the catch and the release. Putting an oar in the water at the wrong time or at the wrong angle may result in “catching a crab.”
Finding swing is a quest that often takes years of practice. Yet, at the same time, the pursuit of swing provides the opportunity to make the entire team stronger and more resilient.
In his #1 New York Times Bestseller book, The Boys in the Boat, author Daniel James Brown depicts the true story about an exceptional crew from the University of Washington and their Olympic triumph in Nazi Germany during the 1936 Olympics. The book also portrays the life and philosophies of perhaps the most famous designer and builder of racing shells in the 20th Century, George Yeoman Pocock. During this time, nearly every collegiate and sport rowing program in America used wooden shells and oars built by Pocock. However, even more influential than his achievements as a boatbuilder, Pocock’s influence and philosophy of rowing have inspired countless oarsmen and coaches.
In Brown’s book, he often quotes Pocock, how he possessed a Zen-like perspective on physics, physiology, psychology and human nature. Here’s Pocock explaining how water- the “enemy” of making a boat go fast- is also a “friend” by providing support for the boat and the crew. He then goes on to apply this metaphor to life.
“It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them.”
— George Yeoman Pocock
Success is a function of cooperation and coordination, not a sum of individual effort.
Successful teams know that performance is a function of cooperation and coordination, not a sum of individual effort. Races are not just won on race day, but rather over the year (or years) of dedicated training. Understanding how your contribution impacts the final outcome and maintaining situational awareness of what others are doing while staying in sync is critical to delivering results. Reacting quickly, deliberately and in a coordinated fashion enables teams to adapt to changes, process new information, and stay on target.
Swing is elusive. Some days in a boat or a business require dogged work and persistence. Some days, you may even catch a crab. Yet, just as I was fortunate to row with so many amazing individuals over the years, I am blessed to be part of a talented and mission-driven team at Diameter Health. Across our organization, each team member supports our customers and each other to fuel the healthcare application ecosystems with actionable data. With this shared mission, I’m confident that the Diameter Health team will be “swinging” for years to come.