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The Way of the Ship

Thursday, July 9, 2015 - Jeff Schuyler


“All deep sea shipping must survive in the face of fierce international competition. A more virile nation with mariners not accustomed to expensively too good conditions can always arise and run the softer ships from the face of the sea.” 

Alan Villiers –1952 “ The Way of a Ship”


I love that line: "A more virile nation with mariners not accustomed to expensively too good conditions can always arise and run the softer ships from the face of the sea."  It's a brutal poetics that has me first smiling and then feeling scared every time I read it.  When I first read this sentence in a book about the 'romantic' days of Clipper commerce, I was struck about how true it is for any business at any time - but still unrecognized by most.  When this book was written the world was much larger than it is today and we competed internationally very infrequently.  Now we compete internationally in almost everything.  I've done some business in east Asia and every time I go I'm amazed at how hard people work.  The competition is fierce.  On one recent trip I had the chance to talk to a head IT guy at Oracle who is in charge of setting up server farms all over the world.  He told me that they would rather hire a worker from Asia than from the US - primarily because workers in Asia are used to working harder and don't have an "8 to 5" mentality.  Really - if you are working with anyone in any part of the world besides your own time zone you can't have this mentality.  You must adapt a part of your schedule to fit with a compatriot on the other side of the world.  When I have to communicate with someone in Taiwan I have to wait until at least 4 PM in the afternoon - and that is just the beginning of their day.  And they are one day ahead of us.  Their week begins on our Sunday and ends on our Thursday.  I'm sure that many people working in Silicon Valley know this.  But many people in the US don't - and it's a severe handicap to our competitiveness in the modern world.  We've become soft in many sectors and out of sync with the real working world with our expectation of working only between the hours of 8AM and 5PM (at some public agencies the day seems to end at 3PM).  I'm not going to say this is "entitlement" because everyone says that - and everyone wants to be entitled.  Let's say we 'deserve' it.  We'll take what we can get.  But the question is whether we can afford it.  Today there is another "virile" nation or two that are less used to the good life.  Are we just about to be wiped from the face of the sea?  Have we already been wiped from the face of the sea?

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