Applying a Rowing Coach’s Wisdom to Business Strategy

Does It Make the Boat Go Faster? Applying a Rowing Coach’s Wisdom to Business Strategy

In my experience as a rowing coach, one principle has consistently proven invaluable: Does it make the boat go faster? This question, simple yet profound, guides every decision made by high-performance teams. We assess a wide range of issues, ideas, and items, from equipment to training routines, and ultimately ask: Does it make the boat go faster? If the answer is yes, we embrace it. If no, we discard it.

This principle extends beyond rowing. It’s a powerful metaphor for strategic focus in any high-performance environment, including business. Here’s how this approach can transform your strategy and drive success.

Aligning with Strategy

In business, as in rowing, clarity of purpose is essential. We must be absolutely clear about what fits the strategy. When discussing, proposing, or debating an idea, the crucial question should always be: Does this align with our strategy? If it doesn’t, we need to pass it on. By focusing solely on what aligns with the strategy, we ensure that our resources are used effectively. This is akin to a rowing team concentrating only on what makes the boat go faster.

Narrowing the Focus

Adopting this approach narrows our focus, ensuring that our limited resources—people, time, and commitment—are concentrated on what truly matters. Instead of being distracted by every possibility that might seem nice or interesting, we hone in on what will drive us forward. This disciplined focus is critical in achieving high performance and delivering results.

The Importance of Measurement

Another crucial aspect of this analogy is measurement. In rowing, we can measure if something makes the boat go faster. Similarly, in business, we need to measure whether our actions are advancing our strategic goals. Are we improving quality of life, prevention, screening, or early diagnosis? If our actions do not meet these criteria, they do not fit with the strategy and should not be pursued.

Making Tough Choices

This approach presents a real challenge because passionate people often want to do everything they can. It feels counterintuitive to say there are things we won’t do. However, delivering a strategy requires making tough choices. We need to be clear about what we will not do to allocate our time, money, effort, resources, and focus effectively on what truly matters.


The principle of “Does it make the boat go faster?” is a powerful tool for maintaining strategic focus. By consistently applying this question to our business decisions, we can ensure that we remain aligned with our strategy, use our resources wisely, and achieve our goals. Just as a rowing team discards anything that doesn’t contribute to speed, we must dispense with ideas that do not drive our strategy forward. This disciplined approach will enable us to navigate the complexities of our business environment and achieve high performance.

Remember, the key to success is not in doing everything, but in doing the right things. So, ask yourself and your team: Does it make the boat go faster?