Contracts are lifeboats

A little more than one year ago I got my boat licence. I was very happy to start my life as a commander, after years of sailing with no chance to set up my own boat. Now after 14 months my head is filled with plans about sailing trips in many seas around the globe.

One of the key safety devices on board of a sailing boat is the lifeboat. When everything is lost – maybe even the boat! – the lifeboat lets the sailors keep their life, as precious as it is and may suddenly be perceived when you are shipwrecked in a storm.

S.O.S – Save Our Stakeholders

Portland Pudgy proactive lifeboatTwo sailors in a lifeboat may view each other as a hindrance, one consuming and subtracting useful resources and supplies from the other. Instead they’d better cooperate and identify the needs of each, be it for shade, drinkable water, medicine or food. They will want to go a step further and start considering those needs as shared problem, like other shared ones like trying to spot a ship, collecting rainwater and getting the lifeboat to a friendly shore. Engaged in a side-by-side effort to solve a mutual problem, the two sailors will become able to reconcile their conflicting interests as well as to pursue their shared interests.

Now, I don’t know what your experience of contracts is, but mine is that they come into play when things go wrong, really wrong. As long as the relationship among the parties goes fine, there’s no need for contracts. When people start seeing their interest disregarded in some way and no reconciliation seems to loom on the horizon, clauses and lawyers come front center.

Usual alignment. Or not?

As lifeboats don’t add anything up to a nice sunny sailing day, contracts don’t add any direct value to your products or services success. At the same time they are both meant to save your life when shipwrecked. And like two shipwrecked sailors in a lifeboat at sea fighting for limited rations and supplies, parties may start seeing each other as opponents.

If a contract must be a lifeboat, then it would be better for it to ease the sailors’ alignment. Standard fixed price or time&material contracts are focused on opposed positions of the parties instead of being focused on naturally shared interests and on reconciling conflicting ones.

If you ever found yourself on a lifeboat with another sailor, would you prefer to be aligned to him or not? When you sign a contract, do you prefer to be well aligned or not?

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