Professional Skipper – November 2001 issue     back to articles menu

“Economists: God’s little Sunbeams?  Not yet, but we can arrange it…”

On September 11th this year, two things happened simultaneously. The worst terrorist attack in modern history was one of them. Our business coming to a dead halt was the other. While the appalling events unfolded and CNN rolled remorselessly on, our telephone remained mute. For nearly 2 weeks, like a possum in the headlights, nobody seemed capable of making a decision. Now, 2 months later, things are starting to come right. However, there’s something hiding in the woodpile.


If you’re old enough, and watched TV in the late 60’s, you may remember a series called Candid Camera. The creator (and Director) rejoiced in the name Alan Funt, which may have had something to do with his love of humour (the letters f-u-n in his surname, just to clarify). Whatever, I can still to this day recall a ‘skit’ they did where a hidden camera was set up opposite a bus shelter. 3 or 4 actors sat in the shelter, as if waiting for a bus. Along came the unsuspecting victim, and sat among them. No sooner had he/she relaxed and settled down when, on some hidden signal, all the actors instantly leapt to their feet and ran away at full speed. The camera zoomed in on the face of the victim, which showed thorough alarm and a desperate desire to run away as well, but no clue as to what to run away from. Victim after victim, all showed varying degrees of uncertainty, fear, and puzzlement. Several actually ran away. There was no actual danger. Now, I want you to hold that story in the back of your mind while I ask you to consider this next point. Trust me – you’ll see where I’m going in a minute.

You all know about ‘down-flooding’. If you’re a skipper of any awareness then you know about the ‘effect of free water on stability’. You know about ‘top hamper’ and ‘righting moments’. In a heavy sea-way where a vessel is taking seas ‘over the top’ then any water finding its way inside the vessel, or unable to discharge overboard, creates a steadily worsening scenario where, unless something changes dramatically, sooner or later the vessel either capsizes and down-floods, or simply loses buoyancy, and in either of those situations, the outcome is inevitable. It will reach a ‘point-of-no-return’. The vessel will sink.

I am not by nature a violent person. It takes a mountain of provocation to get me to the point where the red haze takes over. Even then I’ll probably take it out on the lawnmower. That’s why God invented them. I mean, I listen to the National programme on my way to work. Need I say more? But I find myself having to confess to feelings of rage, lately. “What has brought this on?” I hear you ask. “What could possibly have caused this placid grin-on-legs to spit the dummy?” Well, you see, I care about whether we, as a Nation, survive. I care about whether my family as a Unit survives. I do not want a depression, or a recession, or a slow-down. I don’t work for the Government, or the Council, or a Bank. I am a small businessperson, and when decision-makers stop doing what they’re supposed to do, my business starts to die. Among the many things I enjoy doing, a favourite is working with the subject of human Motivation, and for my sins, I confess to having studied it in some depth, and I can add to that academic knowledge quite a bit of hands-on experience in motivating individuals & teams. I’m not blowing my own trumpet, simply establishing some integrity for my argument.

I know, for example, that if I can make someone believe they are capable of doing a particular thing, and if I can convince them of the likelihood of success, and if they actually want to achieve, then there’s a bloody good chance they will succeed, not because I’ve made it any easier, but because they approach the task with a ‘can do’ mindset. Three ‘if’s, and they’re the biggest ifs you’ll ever see. There’s so much potential greatness in the world that is never achieved because of a lack of one or more of those ‘if’s. Motivational force is a bit like a physical force. Imagine cutting wood with a very sharp axe. On your first attempt, you hold the axe against the wood and push, and of course, nothing happens. On your second attempt you give the axe a damn good swing, and you cut the branch with one stroke. What’s the difference between the two attempts? Is the axe any sharper? No. Is the wood any weaker? No. Get people motivated, and you’re adding force to the swing.

Let’s take the ‘axe’ analogy (and your imagination) a little further. Imagine if the axe had been damaged on the cutting face, so it was a bit blunt, and you had other branches close around you preventing you from pulling back for a good swing, and imagine if you were tired anyway. Think it might be a bit tougher? To cap it off, I now want you to imagine you’ve got some obnoxious, weedy, pallid, pimply-faced nobody standing beside you, muttering “You’ll never do it. You won’t. It’s too hard. Nobody else has managed it. Everyone else has given up. Believe me, mate, I’m a qualified expert. I think you should give it away, mate. Besides, the bottom’s dropping out of the firewood business… save your energy mate, go on, give it up, go home, don’t spend any money and don’t make any decisions.”

I imagine you’ve figured out where I’m going with this whole story now, but let me pull it together anyway. The Candid Camera example looks at panic as a communicable disease – people are radiating alarm, but where is the threat? This vessel we call NZ has been taking it green over the top for a while now, the crew’s getting tired, there’s a bit of water getting in but the pumps are handling it OK, she’s still afloat and still viable, if we keep our spirits up and keep trying, but if we allow this panic to overtake us, we will inevitably sink – not because we were in real danger, but because we imagined we were, ‘experts’ told us we were, and so we stopped doing all the things we needed to do, in order to survive. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

And the ‘axe’ example? We are being bombarded with negative imagery every time we turn on the TV, the radio, or open a newspaper. It’s like trying to wade through Manukau mudflats. A sucking, dragging sensation that inexorably saps your strength.

In the end, it may be the so-called ‘expert economists’ unthinkingly spreading their insidious negative messages, which finally overcomes our buoyancy, and sinks us. Or perhaps they are the real terrorists, and in the employ of Bin Laden?

I am striking back. I no longer read the newspaper. I listen to music in the car. I regulate and restrict my intake of CNN. Others may say I am being an Ostrich, and they are welcome to their view. I’m saying that a recession is NOT inevitable, but if we are continuously exposed to negative images and commentary, we will come to believe it IS inevitable. And then, of course, it will be.

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2001 All rights reserved by the author.                                                                                                                       back to articles menu