What is Day In A Canoe?

Have you ever looked forward to an exciting business- or career-related development only to have it turn out to be a huge disappointment? Have you placed your hope in someone only to be let down? Have you set realistic expectations only to be frustrated by lack of progress? These disappointments are experienced all too often in many areas of professional life. It’s enough to make you wonder whether investing in relationships is a path to possibilities or an exercise in futility.

“Day in a canoe” is a metaphor for evaluating and managing relationships. Compatibility is necessary for relationships of every kind to be successful. Decisions involving your business, advisors, family and friends occur every day. Each decision carries consequence. While there’s always a risk of disappointment, I learned years ago that you can take steps to improve the potential for a positive outcome.

I grew up in rural New Brunswick, Canada. It is a region where hard work is valued and the simple things in life are appreciated. A mentor of mine was a farmer in the community. Howard didn’t possess the sophistication of a CEO, but he had a keen understanding of what makes people tick. Although he had an optimistic outlook on life, once in a while I would hear him say, “I wouldn’t spend a day in a canoe with that person.” Howard was usually observing someone he wasn’t likely to trust or share similar values; his canoe comment meant he had made the determination that engaging with that individual would be a waste of energy.

While canoeing is a recreational activity, it is also something that requires planning and commitment to a desired outcome. You need a basic level of compatibility with the other person to have a successful experience. Spending a day in a canoe with someone who you don’t respect or enjoy being with can be excruciating regardless of the beautiful scenery.

My mentor’s phrase has always stuck in my mind. I’ve ended up turning his comment into this question: “Would I spend a day in a canoe with you?” I ask myself this question often: when I’m looking to make business deals, when I’m in the hiring process, when I’m evaluating possible partnerships and vendors — any area where relationships will be critical to success.

The question serves as a powerful filter. It makes me stop and consider implications. Pausing helps me step back from the excitement of the moment and think about not-so-obvious potential issues or warning signs. It’s an invaluable gut-check.

I created the Day in a Canoe blog to share insights about people, team dynamics and leadership. We make decisions at a rapid pace and they often have lasting implications. To make the best decision possible about whom you should let into your proverbial canoe is mission critical. We will be posting articles designed to help you gain perspective on your decision–making journey. Hop in — it’ll be a great adventure.

LEARN MORE: Would I spend a day in a canoe with you?
Ask this simple question. Gain profound insight.


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