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The “Must Reads”

by Peter Schrappen

I don’t know about you, but this shutdown has given me plenty of time at home with my family. Back to the basics for sure at my abode in Seattle. In my back-to-the-basics life, with time around the hearth, I can’t help but think about the various books that have helped me (thus far) navigate through this crisis. Actually, three books come to mind that are appropriate for the COVID-19 crisis and have also informed my mindset around lobbying. For me, the must reads are The Tipping Point, Black Swan, and Good to Great.

Why these three? The Tipping Point is the only book you need to read. Ever. Yes, people refer to it, but I wonder how many people have actually read it. Author Malcolm Gladwell breaks down the spread of messages just as epidemics are spread. In all societies, there are “connectors” who are really good at transmitting viruses (or as Gladwell outlines “sticky messages”). They are at the hub of the network. The secret there is that you don’t need everyone to buy into what you are trying to change. Just relax. It’s the right (few) people who will carry the day.

Take this past legislative session (please!). With the change to the copper bottom paint ban moving to 2026 from the imminent 2021, I needed the right people on board with the sticky message that would prevail at the right time. Actually, when too many people raise their hand, I get nervous. I’m reminded of the problems with tall poppies. From my research, it’s an analogy that exists in both Dutch and Australian cultures. In these countries, and potentially others, there exists trepidation to be too showy (like a tall poppy), less you get chopped off in the field. For advocacy efforts in Olympia, too many boaters contacting their lawmakers could mean too much attention is getting paid to what turns out to be common sense legislation.

Vice Admiral James Stockdale in 1979

Vice Admiral Jim Stockdale in 1979. Stockdale, who later became broadly known to the public as Ross Perot’s Vice Presidential running mate in 1992, was a Prisoner of War from September 9, 1965 until February 12, 1973.

As for The Black Swan, and this COVID-19 is certainly a black swan moment, author Nicolas Talib explains that life plays out with surprise. Predictions are worthless. We as humans live a life like the turkey that gets fed day after day until they get butchered for Thanksgiving. If you are the turkey, you are thinking, “Yum, this feed is delicious.”

COVID-19 popped up in Wuhan, China, while we all were going about our daily business and crept across the world until it became a crisis for all. Talib has little patience for predictions (as I do) given how random life is. Next time, a so-called expert tells me something can’t get done, I will just smile and remember how many times boaters and anglers had their backs against the wall and prevailed in Olympia. Two specific examples come to mind with the Marine Tourism Bill passing and the effort to prevent Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife from getting their 2019 fee increase on the backs of recreational anglers.

The third book on my list is another classic. Jim Collins’ Good to Great adorned reading lists of every high-flyer in the early 2000s. Collins preaches the need for the Hedgehog principle (to be really good at one thing). As his book unfolds, he recalls the survival story of Admiral James Stockdale, who held the unfortunate record of remaining in captivity for a record amount of time during the Vietnam War. Why did he survive in prison and his peers didn’t?

Stockdale shared a paradox that I just love and Collins dubbed the Stockdale Paradox. “I never lost faith in the end of the story,” Stockdale says. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade.”

When he was asked who didn’t make it out, he replied, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart. This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–-which you can never afford to lose–-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Speaking of the right kind of optimism, I’m drawn to this recent quote by Frank Hugelmeyer, the new head of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, from a memo to the boating industry regarding COVID-19 crisis: “While most of you feel that recreational boating is well positioned to play a positive role in supporting the health and wellness of our country, everyone is focused on the seriousness of the immediate crisis at hand.”


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