Do something Featured

9:38am EDT July 22, 2002

A friend of mine, who evidently has more confidence in me than I do, let me man the wheel of his sailboat last week as he walked to the bow to raise the sail.

It took about 30 seconds before the rudder became caught up in a turn and started to whip the boat around in a perpetual circle. My first reaction was to let go of the wheel and call for help. And boy, did I get reamed for that decision.

There's a maritime rule every sailor knows, I was informed, and that is, if you're headed toward an iceberg, you have three options, and two of them are correct. You can choose to avoid the obstacle. You can choose to hit the obstacle. Or you can choose to do nothing. The only wrong decision you can make is to choose to do nothing, he said. (Which is exactly what I did when faced with my first crisis at sea.)

There's a reason why sailors say every maritime rule applies to life in general. (And why there are so many metaphors and analogies in "Moby Dick.")

I returned to work the next day looking for ways I could avoid choice No. 3 in performing my daily job. And in this new awareness, I found some examples of companies which are, in a sense, making a conscious choice to do something.

I'm not referring to things that are part of the normal course of the day. Here are three ideas I ran across:

1. Donate one day a year of your staff's time to a charitable cause. The agents who work for Realty Executives Commitment in Canton spend a day each July building a house for Habitat for Humanity. While the company donates $5,000 toward the home, the 44 employees donate a combined 350 hours work hours that day.

2. Collect your used computer equipment and donate it or recycle it. There's a company in Columbus that restores old computers and resells them (retrobox.com or (800) 393-7627), or you can pay a recycler to dispose of your equipment in an environmentally friendly manner (backthruthefuture.com or techrecycle.com). This costs, on average, $15 a computer (including the monitor). Retro Box will erase your hard drive so information can't be stolen. Also consider donating your equipment to a local charity. And if you're having trouble finding a grateful recipient, don't forget your employees. It's cheaper than paying a recycler, and you'll reap the benefits of a happy worker.

3. Revamp your benefits offerings. Our HR manager informally asked employees to critique our time off plan. When employees were asked informally, and somewhat anonymously, what they thought was missing, many mentioned they'd like to be able to take a day off when they weren't really sick and weren't really on vacation. So she made a few simple (and free) changes in response to that frank feedback. Employees now accumulate a pool of days off, so if they want to go to an Indians game on a warm August day, it's just as valid as staying at home with the flu.

Next month: Why Captain Ahab was never really CEO of his own ship.