I have one question for the reader: Did you happen to see any of the just concluded
America’s Cup races? Don’t know even what sport the America’s Cup is competed for? Well, you are likely in the good company of 90% of all Americans and even half of all of those whose TV’s are locked on ESPN! However, if you missed this “boat race,” you missed seeing one of the greatest displays of innovation, design, and ingenuity – global ingenuity, not just American – you will likely ever see!
For those who could identify the America’s Cup without going to their smartphones for “Mr. Google” to provide the answer, this is the historical yacht racing series that is – according to the America’s Cup organization – the longest regularly contested international sporting competition (even pre-dating the modern Olympic Games). For those of a “certain age,” the America’s Cup has made headlines at times throughout its history, most notably when a young, brash media-mogul named Ted Turner skippered the winning boat in 1977 and when – gasp – the U.S. actually lost the America’s Cup for the first time in 1983.
The headline from this year’s event – staged off the coast of Bermuda – is that New Zealand won the cup from an American team funded by mega-tech-billionaire Larry Ellison. And this year’s contest was not without controversy, mostly over the “outsourcing” involved (the captains of both the New Zealand and the U.S. yachts were actually Australian, as were all but one member of the winning New Zealand boat crew).
However, the most important takeaway from the America’s Cup is a simple one – expressed by my wife when we happened to see a highlight clip from one of the finals races. Within two seconds of seeing the boats on TV, she exclaimed, “Those aren’t boats!” And she was absolutely right! As the reader can see in the clip below, these boats literally “fly” on top of the water – through a process called “foiling.” With a combination of high-tech innovations that lift the boats out of the water for much – if not all – of the race, these catamarans (twin-hulled yachts) can actually achieve speeds up to three times the speed of the wind powering them, approaching speeds of 50 knots – over 55 miles per hour!
Whatever your interest – or lack thereof – in the sport of yacht racing, what you have to take away from viewing even a minute or two of the performance of these America’s Cup boats is “shock and awe” at just how far the technology of sailing has advanced, especially in recent years. The very nature of a “boat” has been changed in a way that the America’s Cup organization says would “bewilder” the sailors of the past.
And so for this observer, the lesson to be taken away from this remarkable evolution of technology in a rather obscure sport – and some may argue with the term “sport” being applied here at all – is a vitally important one for all in government contracting. Think about it – all too often in the world of government contracting, we are defining – and then buying – the slow boat of yesterday, rather than the speedy catamaran of today – and the likely speedier one of tomorrow. We too often think in terms of defining “sailing” in a manner that would preclude the notion of foiling. Really, can you imagine any contracting officer at any government agency at any level writing a specification for a boat that would not explicitly state that it would have to function in the water (It is a boat after all)? And by taking this mindset, we put the gear of government behind the technological curve buy buying yesterday’s tech instead of today’s – let alone reaching for that of tomorrow.
So let’s resolve to think of these “magnificent flying machines” when we look at what can be when it comes to all things tech in government. By thinking of a boat as a boat (or a computer as a computer, a tablet as a tablet, etc.), we box ourselves into a specific paradigm when we think about what technology is and what it can do for the way government operates and delivers services. By really partnering with real innovators in the private sector and encouraging looks over the horizon as to what tech can be – rather than just focusing on the status quo, leaders in government contracting can do their part to help produce the kind of quantum leaps that we have seen with these spectacular America’s Cup vessels flying over the water at highway speeds!