Deep Survival: Business Lessons From the Wild

What does survival in the wild, my recent computer woes, and running a business have in common?

My blogging vacation was a little longer than expected because of a hard-drive failure. I’ve just finished rebuilding my third drive (and operating system) in the last six months.

But I did have time to do some non-business reading. This year I chose “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why“. I admit it’s a little weird  that my idea of a relaxing read includes people being dropped in the jungle  from 28,000′ wearing high-heels and a dress, surviving 60 days in a raft with a broken water purification system, or the analysis of a mountain climbing accident that kills a dozen people.

Darn-it if I didn’t see some parallels between those life & death situations and strategic business planning and execution. Those that didn’t just lie down, give up and die had some common characteristics:

They Accept Reality

Survivors were quick to accept  their situation and deal with the here and now. They did not waste time and energy railing against the gods, grieving, or crying about what should have been. They figured out where they were, what resources they had, and what they needed to do next to live another hour.

They Have Something Bigger to Live For

All survivors who went through grueling physical, emotional, and mental anguish to live and escape their situation (like walking down off a Andes mountain with a shattered knee bone poking through their pants) had a powerful motivation to keep themselves alive. Usually it was a child, spouse, or loved one that kept them going.

If your business does not have a higher purpose other than just making you money, then how do you get other people to care about it as much as you do?

They Are Disciplined

Survivors are incredibly disciplined. Whether is was drinking only a litre of water a day on the high seas in an open raft, or simply taking the next physical step down the mountain or through the jungle, they gave themselves a cadence by which to govern themselves.

What’s the rhythm of your business? Do you have the discipline to get things done? Do you regularly follow through on commitments?

They Have Focus

Survivors often have to just wait, saving their energy for a burst of activity when it’s needed the most. They don’t waste their energy (or time) pursuing activities that don’t directly benefit their main goal: staying alive.

This is similar to Covey’s “big rocks first” principle. Often I see clients let day after day slip by chasing the latest fire in their business, when what they said they needed to do was spend time making sure those fires didn’t happen in the first place. What are your big rocks, and how much time do you spend on them?

They Adjust Their Plan

Survivors don’t just slavishly follow a presumably good plan when circumstances change. They are prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they come along, or adjust their plan when fate throws a coconut or avalanche at their head.

What’s your plan and how often do you review it?

They Listen to the Experts

What does all this have to do with my computer? I could have avoided some of my recent technical grief if I’d taken the advice given at the end of the book about how not to get into a life-and-death situation in the first place:

My technical guy tried to tell my that a faulty voltage regulator was frying my hard-drives. Had I heard him I would have been able to choose the time of buying a new lap-top. I didn’t want to hear him because it didn’t fit into my model of the world (not wanting to spend the cash right now).

You are good at what you do. You might even be the expert. You’re not good at everything. Get the right advice from the right people, and listen to them.

They Have a Plan B

. . . or sometimes even a plan C if the possible failure is critical enough. What are you going to do if your plan A fails?

In my case Plan B was to recover my files from the old hard drive, something I’ve successfully done a couple of times before. Plan C was to use the on-line backup service to recover my file. It would take a bit longer as long as the backup service didn’t corrupt my files . . . Oops! Three weeks later and I’m just getting back to scratch. Without a plan C I still wouldn’t be able to do the accounts, invoice my clients, or pay my taxes.

Now I have a plan D as well – a backup to an external hard-drive on my desk.

. . . and for those of you who enjoy adventure reading, I highly recommend “Deep Survival: Who Live, Who Dies, and Why

Question for the Comments: 

Has your business career had a “near death” experience? What did you have to do to survive?

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
What Does Your Reality Look Like?
When “Big Rocks First” Fails
What Do Rituals Have To Do With Business?

Bernie works as a leadership and business coach, consultant, and facilitator. He believes there are simple things outstanding leaders do well, and that not to do anything about bad leadership once you know about it is abuse. Check out what he does with

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