“What’s one practice that you think all leaders should have?” That’s the question someone asked me on a podcast recently.
My answer? “Story hunting”—the practice of looking for, and collecting, interesting information outside of your day-to-day expertise or responsibilities. Why? For the simple reason that it can make it easier for you to make your message clearer to others.
How does it do that? By finding new and interesting information, you start to collect a lot of examples of different kinds of events, patterns, ideas, etc. Those examples are important because they give you options the next time you’ve got a message to get across—especially if you don’t want to use a tired example everyone’s heard before.
This week I stumbled across just such a potentially useful story that I’ll definitely add to my Swipefile (what I call my collection of studies, stories, and stuff I could potentially use someday):
Enormous shipwreck discovered in Lake Superior 120 years after storm sank Whaleback vessel
So there’s a lot in just that headline that made the article one I wanted to check out.
- Almost any missing enormous thing is bound to be interesting (and useful: anytime you want to talk about something big or obvious that everyone seems to miss!)
- It happened 120 years ago, so for the wreck to have just been discovered means people were likely looking for it for a long time (again, which could be useful if you ever want to give an example of perseverance)
- I had no idea what a Whaleback vessel is, which means I’d likely learn something new by reading the article
That last one turned out not to be true. I don’t know if it’s the state of journalism today or what, but if they didn’t feel it necessary to explain what a Whaleback vessel is (which they apparently didn’t) you’d think—at the very least—they’d link to an explanation. The original announcement is actually much more useful, but it’s not the one I found first. That’s how Swipefiling goes. You find what you find and follow the paths the original post opens up!
That omission aside, there’s good stuff here, so let’s dive in:
- The ship in question is the (not) creatively named Barge 129, and it sank in Lake Superior, as the headline notes, 120 years ago
- The ship was discovered by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (So there is one! Who knew?!), using “side scan SONAR technology” (which I again would have liked them to explain, but que sera, sera)
- It was 650 feet underwater (which is almost as deep as the Golden Gate Bridge is tall—a comparison I looked up myself to get a sense of just how far down it was), and identified through the use of an underwater drone
- It sunk while carrying a load of iron ore (heavy!) while being towed by another ship, the Maunaloa (The USA Today/Detroit Free Press article gets this backward, by the way, which I only figured out when I couldn’t understand how Barge 129 got in trouble when it was the one doing the towing—turns out it wasn’t!)
- A sudden storm came up and snapped the line connecting the ships, thus leaving Barge 129 adrift with its very heavy load “at the mercy of Mother Nature,” which wasn’t very merciful
- The two boats collided when the Maunaloa turned around to try to reconnect the towline (a detail from the final announcement that didn’t make it into the article), and the Maunoloa’s anchor tore a hole in the side of Barge 129
- While it caused Barge 129 to sink, the Maunoloa and its crew were also its savior: they were able to rescue all aboard Barge 129 before it was fully submerged
- The ship was one of the last unlocated Whaleback wrecks and, while it was in pieces, enough of its distinctive Whaleback shape remained to make it clear that it was indeed Barge 129
- This last detail is my favorite: “When the crew returned home after the sinking the vessel’s owner, Pittsburgh Steamship Co. of Duluth, Minnesota, gave Captain Josiah Bailey $50 and each crewmember $35 for the loss of clothing” (also: there aren’t enough Josiah’s anymore, I say)
How you could use it
I gave some ideas at the beginning for how this story could be useful, but that last detail is probably how I’ll mentally file this away: as an example of a company missing the bigger picture of its employees’ experience. After all, I’m guessing the loss of clothing wouldn’t top the crew’s list of what was most traumatic about what they went through!
I mean, who among us hasn’t experienced a company not understanding the actual experience of its employees? So you could use this as an example of “at least our company isn’t Pittsburgh Steamship Co. of Duluth, Minnesota bad” or the opposite, “this is like that time the Pittsburgh Steamship Co. of Duluth, Minnesota thought the worst part of being on a sinking ship in a storm—35 miles from shore—was the loss of clothing!”
Either way, it helps make the underlying point that much clearer, not to mention more interesting. It’s also a good warning against doing something that could be reported about your business 120 years later.That last detail is probably how I'll mentally file this away: as an example of a company missing the bigger picture of its employees' experience. Click To Tweet
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