We had the opportunity to attend the America's Cup (AC), currently happening in Bermuda. For any sports (and sailing enthusiast) a once in a life time opportunity. And there is always something to be learned in life - with applicability to the enterprise... here I share my top 3 lessons learned from AC 35.


Take a look at the video that I recorded in Bermuda for a start:

And of course there is a one slide summary:
And here are the three lessons learned:

Challenge Best Practices

AC35 Development – For the first time AC teams have members of their team called ‘cyclist’, in this case Emirates Team New Zealand even has an Olympic medalist on board. It matters as the New Zealand team creates the vital pressure for maneuvers and adjusting with … spinning on stationary bikes. Four of the six team members… pedal. Unthinkable for sailing so far – the biggest forces in sailing were generated by arms, by the so-called grinders. And while all five other teams did not want / could not react to the New Zealand innovation. The power advantage is obvious, based on the team claims that the best Emirates Team New Zealand value is averaging 800W per race, the best grinder of Oracle Team USA does… 350W per race.

The CXO Lesson – Best practices are not there to be followed blindly but questioned regularly. Lateral thinking is crucial: Find what works in other areas and can solve the problem better. Everybody knows humans have more power in their legs than their arms – so why not use it … on a sailboat. What is the lateral thinking to disrupt and innovate on best practices for your enterprise?


Make the organization a living being

AC35 Development – AC teams have traditionally been very hierarchical organizations, the buck stops with the skipper, giving the commands and the ream receiving them. The tactician was an innovation introduced decades ago, to give the skipper a second opinion, another set of eyes. Tacticians would advise, skippers sometime follow. Compare to what Emirates Team New Zealand does: The helmsman drives, another team member is the foil trimmer and another one oversees sails (ironically the formal skipper, Ashby). Full delegation, no need to communicate / coordinate (listen into the live broadcast).

The CxO Lesson – Organizations need to be reviewed regularly. Too much communication and coordination can slow down an enterprise. Autonomy is powerful, empowers people to make the right decision, focus on the job and get It done. How many of you directs can / could do with more autonomy? Do they give them directs more economy?


Show up - late and ready works

AC35 Development – Emirates Team New Zealand only made it to Bermuda in May, races started in June. Oracle Team USA was their already almost two years earlier. As it turns out – the conditions the New Zealand team trained under at home, were more the ones that are now occurring in the Great Sound of Bermuda. Maybe lucky, maybe not. For sure the other teams saw less of the cycle setup.

The CxO Lesson – You don’t have to be first. Your enterprise must be there at the right time and ready. Every move will cause a reaction by the competition. The earlier your enterprise acts, the more time for the competition to react, adapt and maybe beat you. Late and ready is better than to be early and surprised and with no potential to adapt or react.



There are many lessons to be learned in life and it’s nowhere cast in stone that new strategies in business have to come from lessons learned in business. Lateral thinking, questioning the status quo, bending best practices, ignoring best practices and challenging them need to be part of the daily work of a CxO. Once implemented, they need to be executed, and we know flatter, more autonomous and more diverse teams do better. Empower the organization. And have a plan over time. Leave something in the tank to change the way the game is being played and playing out. If you are ready, coming later with impact is better than be early and exhausted.

The America’s Cup is not over. More lessons maybe able to be learned. When I recorded the video, the score was 4:1 for Emirates Team New Zealand. At the time of writing this, the score is 6:1. But in 2013, Oracle Team USA came back from a 1:8 deficit. Maybe that the last lesson for CxOs from the AC: Never say never, and it’s never over till it’s over. Watch Race #9 tomorrow – there may be more – or not – but there is definitively something to learn from AC35.

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