Dead Reckoning – Navigation Technique or Sound Business Planning ?

Dead Reckoning: (Courtesy –

Dead Reckoning Navigation

Dead Reckoning Navigation


1. A method of estimating the position of an aircraft or a ship without astronomical observations, as by applying to a previously determined position the course and distance traveled since.
2. Predictive calculation based on inference; guesswork.

It seems that I am following a theme here, the nautical analogy series here on the TAJ!

OK- So what is he talking about now?  Last time it was an article about the “Center of Effort” and now I bring up a term like Dead Reckoning?

Am I home sick for my days at sea? Well ya, actually I am…

But more than that, I seem to be thinking about how these seemingly different worlds of business and seafaring can learn and adapt useful knowledge and therories  from one another.  After all the first international trade over long distances was carried out by sailing ship captains. Business has always been a part of seafaring, I wonder… how can looking at the basics of seafaring benefit business?

What is Dead Reckoning?

What on the surface first appears as such an ominous term, is in fact an ancient method of finding ones way on the ocean, land or in the air.  Before electronic navigation methods (including the now ever present Global Position System) and without the training to use of a sextant for celestial observations, Dead Reckoning was the only way for Captains, Explorers and Airplane pilots to find their way across the vast expanses of our Earth.

The Dead Reckoning method of navigation is boiled down to knowing where one started and where one wants to eventually arrive,  then updating the progress of the trip frequently along the way. The progress is updated with position “fixes” derived from observations, speed, current and wind estimates, and good old fashioned guesswork.  If a “pilot” or “navigator” kept his track updated frequently and applied good guesswork and was reasonable in his/her estimating, he/she would find themselves at the destination intended and the voyage, trek or flight would end safely.

Finding the New World

Finding the New World

Christopher Columbus found the New World in 1492 using very similar Dead Reckoning techniques that I myself learned as a very young man in the early 1970’s (very young indeed). The Ancient Polynesians sailed to the far reaches of the Pacific, some say all the way to Mexico and even Alaska by using these techniques.  Using position updating and good estimates of progress is a system that many cultures in all parts of the World have developed independently to find their way to new and exciting destinations.

Business Plan

How do you find your way in business?

All businesses should have a plan… many actually start with a real honest to goodness published business plan. I am sure someone along the way has mentioned using a business plan to you if and when you first contemplated starting and running your own small business. How many of you actually maintain that plan as it was created and intended? If you do not have one and we all know who you are… Get started making a business plan, it is never too late!

Suggestion: Look around, it is possible the actual plan from when you started the business is hidden, tucked away in a drawer or file somewhere – never to be seen again…

Dig it UP

Is Yours Dusty?

Is Yours Dusty?

Dig out your business plan, if you have one, and dust it off… Take a look at what you thought you wanted from your business, how you imagined it would progress and what observations lead you to the conclusions you put down on paper.  Now, it’s time to take a “fix” (Nautical term meaning mark your position from known data).

Get a Fix

Smart business owners get a fix on their position regularly along the way during the journey that is a businesses life.  All businesses start from a known position and it is possible you have been traveling through uncharted waters ever since.

Did you ever take a “fix” and update your business plan?

With a “fix” you can make adjustments to the plan, alter the course of travel and ultimately find your way to the destination that you now remember having in mind when you first put the plan to paper.  Dead Reckoning your business along a path to prosperity is a sound and age old way to make sure that the plan does not go off course.  Without regular position checks and corroborating information, no business owner will know if he/she is progressing safely or falling off course.

Conditions Change

In any journey, especially those that last as long as it takes to build a profitable business, conditions change.  On a voyage it could be the weather, or the current or a torn sail.  In business it could be interest rates or the economy or in the case of a lot of my readers… some other entity – say – like eBay changing their business plan and effecting your safe journey to prosperity.  Strong navigators, captains and business owners all have the ability to adjust to new and more difficult situations within the span of a single voyage.  These successful people know that nothing ever remains the same and they are prepared to adapt, endure and to overcome.

What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate.

Donald Trump

Center of Effort

Center of Effort

Center of Effort

Checking your Dead Reckoning position along the way in your business plan also allows you to have a more complete picture and get a handle on the “Center of Effort” concept I wrote about before.  Keeping all parts of the plan balanced and working together encourages efficiency and increases the chances of prosperity.  Without a regular update on all aspects of your business, how can you adjust the varying factors that allow for a center of effort condition to exist? Everything you do in business should work towards one common goal – success!

Dead Reckoning Your Way…

… through business, life, and through each of our journeys on this earth is the most reliable way to reach any destination safely. Finding out and marking where it is that you are now,  ultimately allows you to get to where you want to be in the future.

The only real difference is time, effort and vigilence.

Scott Pooler – All Rights Reserved

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0 Responses to Dead Reckoning – Navigation Technique or Sound Business Planning ?

  1. things11746 March 6, 2009 at 5:25 pm #


    I absolutely love these posts you’re doing tying your nautical experience to relevant business tips–PLEASE keep it, it is so original, some of your best work!


  2. Scott Pooler March 6, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    Why thanks Cliff!

    I appreciate your support for my somewhat strange look at business and the sea or the business of being at sea….

    I guess events of late have caused me to reflect upon life and take a broader look at what is and should be important.


  3. things11746 March 6, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    I don’t find it strange at all, Scott — it’s what we’re always talking about, original content with an original spin. It’s fantastic!

    And now that you’ve done two, I’ll be awaiting the next one.

    Do hope you keep it up

  4. Just A Thought March 7, 2009 at 12:54 am #

    Absolutely Positively Spot On!

    I’ve been trying to get this very concept across to my students for years — that you need a multitude of goals, some short term, some longer term, all leading to the same Ultimate Goal. As things in your reality change, your short term goals are likely to be affected – and you need to adapt to that reality change. Your longer term goals should be less affected, and your Ultimate Goal should hardly notice the difference.

    Getting a ‘fix’ on your situation — taking a look around and assessing your current reality — is absolutely required if you don’t want to end up at a different Ultimate Destination than you started out heading for.


  5. David White March 7, 2009 at 8:42 am #


    The concept of Dead Reckoning and finding you way in today’s business world could not be more appropriate. It is truly time for business owners to get back to the basic strategies of their core ideas.

    This article also points out that it is our job as a business owner to drive our businesses in the direction we feel will get us to our destination, wherever that is.

  6. Andrew March 8, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    I agree – these are really great posts.

    The relationship between:

    – A theoretical plan
    – Real life as it pans out

    Has surely got to be a question of major importance for all of us… and for myself, it’s particularly relevant to entrepreneurial endeavours.

    I’m a natural planner – but then find myself having to adapt based on changes too numerous to predict.

    For me, questions really worth exploring further are:
    – In that context, why plan at all?
    – If we do plan, how far ahead should we plan? For example, should I simply set myself a broad objective and then rely on good judgement as I go to navigate the details… I increasingly find myself working with shorter time frames. Whilst I know my broad objective, I’m lucky to have my day mapped out, let alone a 3-5 month timeframe!

    That’s the reason business plans end up in a dusty drawer. They are far too static to be of practical use.

    Exploring the idea of a dynamic approach – taking a fix – is great. I’d love to hear more on this subject and I suspect won’t be alone. Much as I value planning (it really is my natural reaction to formulate a plan), I’m developing a real sceptical attitude towards plans as I so often struggle to find them of practical use.

    Either that’s my own inefficiency and overwhelm getting on top of me (highly possible) or… the way in which I’m planning and relating my daily actions with the plan is flawed and could be improved if thought about differently.

    Anyway, great post, inspired me to both think and ramble as you can see!

  7. Henrietta March 9, 2009 at 7:58 pm #

    If you don’t have a plan how will you know where you are going?

    You can’t plan for every eventuality unless you are a real expert with a crystal ball but you can make an outline and set a target.

    As you go you will see if your current strategy is working as anticipated to achieve your target. If not, obviously it is time to rethink strategy.

    IMO any plan should be for at least one year. Absolute minimum. Your one year plan with target can be broken down into monthly and or weekly goals and your daily tasks are a part of organizing your time, not the plan itself.

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