True Virtues Make Dull Companions

Before heading to our team retreat in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I escaped to Turkey to take part in some intense yacht training. It turns out that living on a sailboat for 2 weeks can teach you a thing or two about design. Who knew? Here’s how I applied what I learned on the water, in our cosy apartment on the Dalmatian coast.

In Dubrovnik one of our major goals was to refine our north star and mission. To get the job done we armed ourselves with post-its and marker pens. While the whole team got busy covering windows and mirrors with lots of different ideas, I sat quietly in the corner putting down some notes of my own, admiring the unfolding colour show. In truth, it was pretty hard to stand up and contribute—2 weeks at sea leaves you with a serious case of land-sickness (yes it’s a thing). Fortunately for me, listening and watching the team in action gave me something promising to scribble down on my own post-its.

Trying to define our mission and discover our values wasn’t an easy task, even though we successfully help many other organisations with startup strategy consulting. I felt that part of the reason we made it tough for ourselves was the amount of thinking and brainstorming we did: we created so many different ideas and values that trying to converge at the end of this ideation was very tough. A thought came to me: “If I was leaving the harbour now during my yacht training, how would I figure out and plan my route?” I had an idea, a thought experiment I could try. And since our story at Hanno has so many parallels with nautical life and sailing, why not use this as an opportunity to try this out?

The magic formula

Nowadays In nautical life, it’s easy to navigate the seas using GPS and other technologies. But you can never blindly rely on technologies: you always need a backup plan. When that happens, you’ll need to figure out your location on a map use your compass to sail in the right direction. But even if you did this perfectly, you’d not end up exactly where your map and compass suggest…

That’s because the true north that you see on your map points to the geographic north pole. But, the magnetic north your compass will tell you is not quite the same. There’s a difference of a couple of degrees between them, depending on your location, and this variation (or magnetic declination) is changing every year.

When you plot a route on a map, travelling north, we call this your true course. But when we factor in this variation to your true course, we have a new magnetic course. If we want to travel north, we need to take both into account.

True course + Variation = Magnetic course

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Everything would be perfect if not for one more problem, which means our compass is a little more unreliable. If there’s any metal equipment on your boat (the engine, metal components etc), this will affect the magnet on your compass as well, and add another margin of error to the bearing. This error is called deviation. So if we factor in deviation into our magnetic course, we’ll have a final, rather accurate and reliable compass course.

Here’s where our magical True Virtues Make Dull Companions (TVMDC) acronym and formula comes into play. In sailing, this formula is always a crucial part of your planning before you leave the harbour or marina.

True course + Variation + Magnetic Deviation = Compass course

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So how on earth does this apply to company strategy?

Yes, I know, this may look like rocket science. But I was trying to apply this formula as an inspiration to frame my thoughts about our company direction. I asked myself questions like:

What is Hanno’s true heading? Or what is our pure function: what do we offer as a team?

Well, we build, improve and design digital products and experiences. We can’t sail directly towards this on our map, as it doesn’t communicate purpose, but let’s plot that on our ‘map’:

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What is Hanno’s variation? What is affecting our function and the way we function?

We’re a distributed team, all of us work remotely in a rapidly evolving industry.

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What is Hanno’s magnetic heading? How does our variation affect our function? This gets us closer to our purpose, rather than just a function.

We deliver innovative and wasteless design solutions remotely in a world where change is certain.

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What is Hanno’s deviation? Which team-wide interests affect our purpose internally?

We care deeply about solving environmental, education and healthcare problems and systems around the world.

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What is Hanno’s compass heading? After all is said and done, what is our final purpose?

We are here to deliver innovative and sustainable design solutions remotely, to solve the biggest challenges facing the environment, education and healthcare. This becomes our mission.

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To sum it all up:

  • What is Hanno’s True heading?
    To Improve and design amazing experiences
  • What is Hanno’s Variation?
    The fast-evolving design industry
  • What is Hanno’s Magnetic heading?
    Disruptive and innovative, remote design
  • What is Hanno’s Deviation?
    World problems: environment, education, healthcare
  • What is Hanno’s Compass heading?
    Solve world problems with disruptive design
  • What are those world problems we solve?
    Problems that are directly affecting people’s lives. We want to prevent them from worsening, so we have to innovate.
  • What is disruptive design?
    It’s innovative solutions that provide sustainable results.
  • What is the clarified Hanno’s Compass heading?
    Solving problems that are directly affecting people’s lives, using innovative solutions that provide sustainable results.

In the end, by building on others’ ideas I managed to define and articulate our mission in my own way and share it with the rest of the team. Well, I had to. Otherwise they would have thought I was only sitting there quietly and shooting crows (an old Lithuanian expression for not doing very much at all).

But this was definitely proof that sometimes you can think very much out of the box and look for inspiration from the most unexpected sources.

If you’re struggling to define the purpose and mission of your startup or company, maybe this experiment would work for you as well. Or maybe you’d find another way of brainstorming and framing your thoughts? Try to answer the questions above and see if this will help you to unfold something new.