Project advice from a solo circumnavigator

Tonight, we attended a lecture by Rich Wilson about the 2008-2009 Vendee Globe, a race around the globe by solo sailors in 60 foot overgrown sailing dinghies.  While many sailboat racing talks get rather monotonous, this one was fascinating.  Instead of talking just about boats and gear, Rich spoke mostly of the experience and the people involved.

He offered some advice that I think fits well with software projects:

In a race of four months, going 22 knots for a day doesn’t mean much. It’s just an opportunity to break things. It’s more important to raise the average speed from 10 knots to 11 knots.

This says something about sustainable pace, but it also says something about our tendency to measure ourselves by our peak performance according to some measure.  Let’s face it–we’re only at those peaks for brief moments.

In the normal world of human endeavors, rather than artificial contests, the measure of “best” is never a measure of a single attribute. I would say that the measurement scales for our performance are so numerous and varied that we are never “best” by all of them at once. Perhaps we are not at our peak even for brief moments.

Yet we can always strive. And even when we don’t achieve that which we desire, or that which we think we’re capable of achieving, we may still be doing our “best” under the circumstances. In fact, how could we not?

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