View From The Bridge

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Today is an amazing clear, sunny day here in Poughkeepsie and a great opportunity for me to see some of the local sights. One of the ‘must see’ attractions here is the ‘Walkway over the Hudson’. This incredible iron bridge opened in 1888, and trains started crossing it a year later, at which point it was the longest bridge in the world. It was converted to a pedestrian bridge in 2009: stands at 212 feet above the Hudson River, and spans 1.28 miles. The longest pedestrian bridge in the world.

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What made my visit to the bridge somewhat special is the weather. The river is completely frozen, and stunningly beautiful. At -16°C and windy it was also stunningly cold! As I made my way across the bridge with my face frozen with cold, my heart frozen with fear (I am not good with heights) I recalled a conversation with the bus driver on the way. He told me that although the river is frozen, a channel of water/broken ice is constantly maintained so that the barges can transport oil up and down the river. This morning one of the boats whose job is to break up the ice and keep the channel open got stuck as it took a wrong turn into thicker ice.

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As I was half way across (precisely 1751 steps) I looked along the river towards the horizon where it was quite clear what the best route to take was for the icebreaker. I could see the path of broken ice against the rest of the river which was frozen solid. From my vantage point it was easy for me to see the direction and the ‘bigger picture’. This was tougher for the crew on the boat that got stuck. Their task was to focus on a single operational task, to ensure the ice did not have time to re-freeze – I could see what was happening, but their closeness to the problem meant they could not see the best direction to take.

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Strategic and operational roles are different but necessary, and depend on one another. Without clear direction the boat could not complete its task. With no boat any hopes of achieving the goal were completely futile, regardless of clarity of vision. But to be completely successful there was a need for another ingredient – effective communication between the 2 parties. Direction for the boat crew and feedback to the directors about operational conditions and challenges.

So even 212 feet up in the air; cold and a little bit scared, I couldn't avoid the lesson that we need clear strategy and direction in any organisation, as well as the ability to deliver operational objectives as required. But most importantly is the need for dialogue and mutual understanding of the importance of each role in completion of the overall goals.

Having sorted that one out, I only had one more thing to focus on – only another 1751 steps until I could get back onto firm ground!

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