Why the marine industry needs to get comfortable being uncomfortable

Posted: July 14, 2020

A former weightlifting coach of mine used to say to me repeatedly, ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’. I remember the first time he said it quite vividly and thinking to myself, ‘I’m pretty sure that it’s meant to get easier?!’. It was not what I wanted to hear as I stepped forward towards the bar, about to attempt a new PB. It was what I needed to hear.

Embrace the pain to see the change

At times I felt like cursing (and often did) but the fact of the matter is, there was discomfort at each increment. Some increments were easier to attain than others but some were pretty awful and I’d already psyched myself out of it before even lifting the bar off the floor. Some required modified or new techniques but all demanded a level of change, be it psychological or physical.

I had the ability, and with the support of my coach and training partners, I had developed the appetite and determination to transform both my lifting and myself. But ultimately, without hearing the uncomfortable hard truth from the outset, and accepting that this would be an ongoing process, my progress would have halted before my journey had even begun.

So what is my point?

Last week I watched the Marintec China Innovation Series Webinar on the 4th Industrial Revolution. The keynote speaker was Dr Martin Stopford, supported by a panel of esteemed marine industry colleagues. The webinar covered a number of scenarios for the shipbuilding industry, along with economic goals for the Industry 4.0 revolution and how to implement successfully. It provided fantastic insight, particularly in light of the uncertainties around Covid-19 but there was one key thing that stood out to me:

‘Everyone faces the same challenges with new technology but you have to start somewhere, otherwise there is no chance to improve’.

This immediately transported me back to that moment in the gym. Different subject matter but very similar principle.

I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that we have been discussing digital transformation within the marine industry for a number of years. More than a number of years in fact. But whilst some shipbuilders, ship yards and ship owners have been proactive in taking the necessary steps and personifying the early-adopter mentality, others are yet to begin the journey and simply maintain the status quo.

Is inertia your downfall? Are you just too comfortable?

When an industry, or more specifically an individual business, has worked in a certain way for many years, it can seem daunting, overwhelming and to some, unnecessary to change their processes at all.  Organizational Psychologists call the latter cognitive inertia, whereby ‘managers might fail to re-evaluate a situation even in the face of change’, retaining a level of comfort. Unsurprisingly, this can be the difference between thriving and barely surviving (if you’re lucky).

Businesses may also encounter decision inertia – repeating a previous choice, despite its outcome. It has a tendency to veer towards sub-optimal choices out of a need for consistency I certainly did that a few times in my weightlifting journey. Occasionally it paid off but that was generally for small increments rather than big leaps, i.e. not transformational, definitely comfortable.

What does your journey look like? Are you capable?

In some instances, a business may feel that it does not have the capability or, lacks a clear understanding of what needs to happen, in order to take the first (or next) step on their digital transformation journey. It is true, they may not have the capability. But I’d hazard a guess and say that the majority of the marine industry at least has a vague notion of what the path to digital excellence looks like, making cognitive inertia even more of a harsh reality for those who choose to do nothing and remain comfortable.

Now, more than ever, with the longer-term implications of Covid-19, the impact of IMO regulations, continued industry consolidation and a 10-year historic decline in shipbuilding, it is becoming business critical to find those operational efficiencies, to become more profitable and to hit sustainability targets. All of which, are unlocked by the power of digital, integration and big data.

Wherever you are on your journey, there is a first step and a next step. Whatever your reason for inertia or reluctance to date, now is the time to transform. Without doubt, there will be times when you feel out of your depth but that’s ok. Embrace it, learn from it. Find a great coach (a digital partner may be more useful in this case!).  You will soon acclimatize and start feeling that comfort factor again. Just remember, when that happens, it's time to take that second (third, fourth and so on) step so that you don’t plateau.

So, I challenge you to ‘get comfortable being uncomfortable’ and see real results. After all, comfort is overrated.

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