Work on your terminal, not in your terminal

In his classic business book, The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber popularized the concept of working on your business as opposed to working in your business. It’s a trap a lot of terminal managers and business leaders fall into. They get too busy with the daily grind of running their seaport terminal operations, to spend the time thinking about ways to improve their business and prepare their port for the future.

At Octopi, we sell software to help mixed-cargo terminals manage their operations and prepare for the future. As such, we get to meet, speak and see many terminal managers at work.

A cargo port is a very busy place and terminal managers are often pulled in many different directions. Their agenda is often quite hectic as it is driven by tight vessel schedules. They face daily challenges that cause them to be more reactive than proactive. They receive phone calls all day long which makes it hard for them to sit and do Deep Work. It’s a challenging position and one where more often than not, managers end up getting sucked into the daily grind of running their business. In other words, they spend most of their time working IN their terminal and very little time working ON their terminal.

As a result, when you visit these facilities as an outsider, you often see many areas for operational improvements. If you are a software geek like me, you see areas where software could help these terminal managers focus on more strategic initiatives and waste less time on day-to-day activities such as producing reports, for example.

Software engineers don’t like repetitive work. Whenever we find ourselves doing some tedious work over and over again, we find a way to automate it. We analyze the task and then write a software script or program that takes care of it automatically or faster. I believe terminal managers could benefit greatly from adopting a similar approach at their terminals.

If you are a terminal manager, make sure that you allocate time to sit and think. Think about how to automate repetitive tasks, how to improve processes, how to digitize your operations, etc… Warren Buffett and his partner-in-crime Charlie Munger are big advocates of ‘sitting and thinking’ and recognize it as one of their competitive advantages:

“We both (Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett) insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think.” -- Charlie Munger

If you are a terminal manager, “as the leader of your business, you are responsible for spotting problems and delegating solutions. You are responsible for setting goals and thinking about the future.” [1]

In other words, make sure you work on your terminal, not in your terminal!

At Octopi, we love talking to port terminal managers and help them see their operations in a new light. If you are a terminal manager and you have identified an area where you are doing repetitive and time-consuming work, contact us as we would love to help you find a better solution.