Course vs Compass

Course vs Compass
Hey lady! Which was is Korea?

It was 0200-something and our first time assuming the watch after almost two weeks at sea on my maritime academies training ship. Somewhere between the West Coast and Asia, we nervously talked about our first time taking command and we had the most frightening instructor on board, who came outside to quickly hush and scold us for being unprofessional. One of us broke the tension of a post scolding nervousness by exclaiming loudly like a New Yorker "Hey Lady, Which Way is Korea?". It has been an inside joke for years and also a reminder to check your course.

A compass is a fantastic tool. You use it to check your heading and see what direction you are going, all based on our planet's magnetic field. A compass is only a tool. Your course matters much more - it is where you're going. In the maritime and logistics industry (and generally in life for that matter) we lean too much on the compass - our tools - to tell us if we are going the right direction and rarely, if ever, see where our course is taking us. The compass can tell you where you are pointing but not that you missed a turn. The compass can help you correct your heading but not find your destination.

"Where am I going?" - something I said when piloting (driving) a ship. The destination is a crucial thing to know. Often we set out on voyages without a specific destination in mind. (I don’t think a lack of a specific destination should prevent you from getting started on something though.) At some point in the voyage, the ship needs to change its heading to follow the course. Keeping the destination in mind when changing course is essential. Most massive corporations stare directly at their compass as they make decisions claiming “this new initiative/plan/consultant is going to revolutionize our company”. They don’t see that they went off course a thousand miles ago and are now sailing into peril or the irrelevancy of the distant horizon.

While in school, I learned to keep my head on a swivel and to keep a close watch for distractions - to discern when distractions are preset and not take the bait. Course v compass is all about keeping our head on a swivel as an industry to stay aware of our surroundings and the dangers lurking ahead and keeping distractions at bay while focusing on the course.

Subscribe to Course v Compass

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.