The MBA sailing day at Luxembourg School of Business
Why would a group of MBA students join a sailing race? The MBA candidates at Luxembourg School of Business joined a boat race in the Netherlands for a good reason: to learn valuable business skills. It’s certainly not a typical corporate day out.
“Around 30 students, they got the possibility to sail!” says Dr. Giulia Negri, the school’s MBA Academic Director. The sailing day was organized by Managing Director Marin Njavro, within the strategy course of Prof. Dr. Paolo Aversa, “because, of course, a strategy course is a very good fit for a sailing regatta.” (03:40)
5 key business skills you learn sailing
Though it was not a typical classroom, the deck of a sail boat offered many learning opportunities for the MBA class. The strategy professor was on hand to prep the students before sailing and debrief them after. Here are the most important skills the MBA students learned during their sailing trip.
Being able to change course is as valuable a business skill as it is in sailing and life.
So when weather conditions for the school’s sailing trip weren’t exactly welcoming, students needed to be able to adapt to their (unexpected) conditions. According to Giulia, the students learned that adaptability is also a valuable life skill.
“On that day, the weather conditions were not favorable, so you can also learn that despite the fact you are prepared psychologically to do a task, there are some events that you cannot control,” she says. (08:01)
Sailing is a complex activity that requires years of training to master. Which the MBA cohort quickly realized while navigating their boat from point A to point B.
They had to make up for whatever they lacked in sailing expertise by working effectively as a team. Everybody had to contribute, everybody had to use their skills, and everybody had to work together to achieve the team’s objectives.
“[The students] really were able to identify one very concrete common goal for them,” Giulia explains. “So each boat, and each member that was on the boat, had the very same goal — to win the race.” (08:36)
In short, sailing teaches you invaluable teamwork skills. In a situation like this, you’ve no option but to work together. And if you can’t work together effectively, you’ll fail.
It’s generally estimated that the average adult makes 35,000 decisions every day.
Thankfully, most decisions are made subconsciously and without a great deal of importance behind them. Snooze or sleep? Eggs or bacon? Tea or coffee? You’re even deciding this very second whether to continue reading this article.
But in a high-pressure sailing situation, the decision-making process comes to the surface. “In order to get to the final destination, you have to drive, or sail, in a diagonal trajectory,” says Giulia. “And of course, we had the seven boats, and if you are the leading boat [then that’s] OK. But if you are behind, you know that, by definition, if you follow the trajectory of the leading boat, you will never win.” (04:32)
The students had to make several important decisions that would affect the race’s outcome. Do you sail in the opposite direction? Remain on course? Follow the leader’s trajectory? Learning to make these quick decisions and seeing their impact helps the students make better decisions in the future.
Any good team needs a good leader – and nowhere is that more the case than in sailing. Leadership is perhaps the most obvious business skill gained from sailing.
“It was, of course, a very good exercise of leadership because none of the students had professional sailing experience, so none of them was an expert in what they were doing. … They had to learn very fast because it all happened in one afternoon in one in half of a day,” Giulia explains. (05:43)
In a situation where no single person has the expertise and knowledge to take command of a situation, it’s important to pool everyone’s skills. The secret to doing that, of course, is through leadership. During sailing, you’ll learn how to allocate tasks to people based on their skill set – an invaluable skill for any good leader.
Giulia described a concept often taught in business education: Competitive Imitation. It’s the idea that businesses sometimes must imitate competitors to succeed. You may have noticed it among social media companies, who frequently ‘borrow’ new features from each other and repackage them under new names.
When you’re sailing, the same concept applies. Giulia says that some teams realized “they have to imitate the company, or the boat, that is winning in that moment in order to win.” Recognizing a competitor’s merits, and imitating them if necessary, is a valuable strategic skill that can lead to success on the water and in business. (05:33)
As Giulia noted early on, sailing is all about strategy. A leader has to create a strong strategy, and the team must work together effectively to stick to the strategy and achieve success. And it’s important to be adaptable to navigate any bumps in the road during the process. All of these skills apply to both sailing and business.
Perhaps they’re more alike than you might think.
If you’re interested in learning more about what it’s like to study an MBA, feel free to reach out to one of our MBA ambassadors.