Supply Chain Council of European Union |

Commentary: Open-field running on the surface of the sea

I use the metaphor I call “open-field running on the surface of the sea” to drive more creative strategic planning. I think of myself as a soccer player on the open pitch moving with the ball toward the goal. The field has players from my team and the opposing team, but my team is always shorthanded. The field is blue, not green. This is because it is not grass but the sea.

If I keep moving, I stay on top of the sea, but if I stop, I quickly sink into nothingness. Being the sea, it is not flat. Instead, it is turbulent and driven by wind, currents and tides. Running on top of this surface requires continual planning of every step so I don’t fall over from losing my balance with a misstep onto a wave or slipstream.

Harry Sangree is the founder of SeaFreight Labs.

The officials are in place, but they are understaffed and seem to be a little slower than the pace of the game. Both teams occasionally try to get away with something, and often the officials miss calls. The time of day is perpetual twilight. There is little light to see those around me, and the goal is hard to see. Luckily, my teammates are wearing bright jerseys so they stand out in the darkness. But the opponents are many, and some are shrouded in gray. The field is clearly visible only in my immediate proximity.

Applying the metaphor to important topics in sea freight can illuminate logical actions. For example, think of decarbonization of sea freight through the lens of the metaphor. The goal is far away, there are myriad opponents and obstacles, and the landscape is in constant flux. The first step in increasing the odds for a win is to strengthen the team. Recently, the industry formed the Getting to Zero Coalition with the goal of bringing the maritime, energy, infrastructure and finance sectors together to move the ball forward.

The next step is to agree on the plays. In June, members of the coalition released the world’s first sector-specific self-governing climate agreement among financial institutions: the Poseidon Principles. The annual summit of the Global Maritime Forum in Singapore in late October brought the players together to agree on additional actions.

Once the plays are designed and communicated to the players, execution will begin. And then the team members will regroup to iterate the process as they see how far the ball moved and who and what are blocking the goal.

The metaphor also is helpful for strategy setting at an individual company. Many sea freight companies are working to digitize their customer interactions. These companies need to implement new systems and processes to make it easier to do business and to introduce new efficiencies into current workflows. The goal sounds like it should be easy, but there are many obstacles and the competitive landscape is turbulent.

The players in this game are key departments such as IT, customer service and finance. Perhaps an outside vendor joins the team to provide needed capabilities. As the team members work on the playbook for execution, they need to think about regulations and regulators in all of the different countries where the solution will be deployed. Finally, the whistle blows and the team executes. After some time elapses, the team takes a timeout, regroups and the process iterates.

Successful strategic planning requires market awareness combined with corporate self-awareness. Using the lens of open-field running on the surface of the sea can help your team be more successful in achieving your corporate goals.

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