Outmaneuver Your Competitors: Four Lessons in Creating Strategy from Elite Sailing

Dec 02, 2013

Red Bull seems to always be in a ‘creating strategy’ mode, finding ways to market itself in innovative (and sometimes astronomically expensive) ways.

This year, they’ve done it again by creating the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, allowing young sailors the opportunity to hone their racing tactics on world-class boats so they can eventually compete in the America’s Cup.

In a business sense, it’s a page out of succession or continuity planning, and it could effectively pry open a sport that has been monopolized by the elite for decades. Running the same vessels used in the America’s Cup from 2011 – 2013, the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup opens up avenues for those ages 19-24 to effectively demonstrate their talent for inclusion on America’s Cup teams of the future.

The sport itself gives us inspiration for comparisons as well, which we can’t help but use as a lesson in creating strategy for this newsletter. So, with props and a full-sail salute to the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup, here are some of our ocean-tested tips to strategic success:

  • Play consistently: Run the course for the long view because winning the race does not equal winning the title. The experts on the announcer’s podium at the Youth Cup continually reinforced that the key to winning a regatta is performing consistenly race after race after race.
  • Understand that tactics matter: Tactics are sometimes associated with “lower level” detail. Sailing changes our thinking about this, as each maneuver adds to the next, which results in the execution of the team’s overall strategy. Every minute of execution matters. In fact, the American team lost their tactician during Race 4 of 8 and they no longer had anyone putting the maneuvers together, which ferried them into a losing spot at the end of the regatta.
  • Avoid the perils of drafting: Sailing in “dirty air” means that you are in the wake of your competitor, which slows boats down because it reduces sail efficiency. Clean air allows boats to achieve optimum speed. Assess the environment and understand how to position your vessel so that it is unfettered by others.
  • Clear, precise communication wins races: Yacht racing requires complete team unity to execute a race successfully. With each race lasting just around 25 minutes, there is no time for miscommunication. The challenges are immediate and at-hand. If you can’t communicate to your team about what’s happening, you have just become the weak link.

It will be interesting to see the “Red Bull Effect” on sailing. It may not be as record-breaking as Felix Baumgarter’s supersonic dive from the boundaries of outer space, but make no mistake that the Youth Cup is creating strategies for increasing access to the sport and accelerating growing mainstream interest.

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