The Dive Watch

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This is the 26th episode of Leadership Adventure, marking our 6 month anniversary. Thanks to each of you for navigating this trail with me so far. If you are enjoying the content, please consider sharing it with others and encouraging them to join our community.

World War II sparked amazing technological advancements in the world of diving. In 1942, Jacques Cousteau, a French Naval Officer, and Emile Gagnan, a French engineer, designed the first reliable underwater breathing apparatus, a system known as the Aqua Lung.

Over the years the ability to dive underwater has generically become known as SCUBA – short for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

One critical component of SCUBA diving is the calculation of time underwater without exhausting available air. This calculation must also allow for decompression stops during ascent, in order to avoid “the bends.”

Wrist watches of that period were not very water resistant, and were inadequate for the task. In 1950, the CEO of watchmaker Blancpain, an avid diver himself, miscalculated his time underwater and almost died making an emergency ascent.

This experience motivated him to devote Blancpain’s resources toward creating an underwater timing device reliable in hostile marine environments. In 1953, the “Fifty Fathoms” was released, ushering in a new timekeeping era and launching what today is the most popular segment of the watch industry.

The dive watch.

A dive watch, by definition, is designed to handle just about anything we can throw at it.

Good leaders are, as well.

Here are several definitive characterstics that every dive watch possesses, and that every good leader must intentionally develop.

1) Resilience – a diver’s life depended on their watch’s reliability. The watch had to absorb the bumps and bruises of their daily routine and keep running. For leaders, especially post-pandemic, the need to keep pushing forward is greater than ever.
2) Resistance – the underwater environment is one of extreme pressure and temperature differentials. The watch must be able to resist these without being crushed or compromised. Leaders, as well, must resist the pressure to conform or to change under pressure. Staying “on mission” is critical to success.
3) Legibility – Visibility declines rapidly underwater. A dive watch must be highly legible, free of clutter, and instantly readable in low light or murky conditions. Similarly, leaders must relentlessly pursue clarity, and keep the vision bright when the future seems dim or fuzzy.
4) Timing – dive watches have a ring around the dial, known as a bezel. The bezel rotates uni-directionally, allowing the diver to set their starting dive time. Once set, they can accurately track their remaining air. For leaders, timing has at least two components: first, the ability to stay on schedule; second, the ability to sense the needs of their team and take necessary action to keep the ship on course.
5) Quality Construction – dive watches today are made of tank tough materials, including stainless steel, titanium, ceramic, sapphire, carbon fiber, metal/glass alloys, and diamond-like carbon coatings, allowing them to survive under the most extreme circumstances. For leaders, the quality of our construction is determined by our character. Leaders who invest time in character development are the most likely to stand the test of time.
6) Escape Valves – at extreme depth, helium molecules can enter the watch. During ascent, these molecules rapidly expand, and the watch can explode. To combat this, a one-way valve was developed to provide an alternate path for the helium to safely escape. Good leaders need to constantly scan for rapid changes and be able to provide an alternative way of navigating them if needed.

Today, the dive watches of old have been largely replaced by the modern dive computer. But the built-for-purpose characteristics they embody are timeless.

Just like those of good leaders.

Pictured is the Tudor Pelagos (Pelagos is Greek for “deep sea”), which is a great example of a modern professional dive watch. You can see the timing bezel around the outside, and the simplicity and clarity of the dial. The Helium escape valve is integrated into the side of the watch case. The hands, indices and bezel are luminescent (glow in the dark), which enhances underwater visibility. The water resistant is 500 meters.

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