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March 17, 2022

Five Unexpected Business Lessons From a Desert Island

Five Unexpected Business Lessons From a Desert Island

Ever wonder what it's like to be stranded on a desert island?

Did you know people actually pay to do that?

I did.  That's why I did that a couple weeks ago.

I didn't go planning to learn any business lessons.  I was just there for my own personal growth.  But as so often happens in life, lessons are always there for you to grab, if you pay attention.  

And when you're eating snails and building shelters to sleep under, you are definitely paying attention.

So here are five unexpected lessons from my ten days on a desert island off the coast of Panama.

1. Do your key work when you have the most energy

Turns out when you are stranded the first thing you think about is eating food.  That's the mistake many people made when they first arrived on the island.  But I knew I needed to get set up and so I looked at putting together a shelter and finding a place where I could sleep.  First things first.

The others learned their lesson the very next day when a storm blew in and they were sleeping in the rain because they hadn't taken the time to get their shelter together.  The hot sun which followed saps your energy and doesn't help with motivation either.

It's the same in business.  When confronting your work day, resist the urge to knock out the tasks that you'd prefer to do first and devote your energy to getting done what has to be done first.  Then you can use whatever energy (and motivation) you have left over to do the other, less important stuff.

2. Play to your strengths

So, turns out I'm really not that great at fishing.  I didn't have to come to Panama and make my own string and hooks and catch my own bait to find that out, but let's say it was forever confirmed. 

So that meant while I might occasionally get lucky with a fish here or there, my life for the next ten days was going to focus on coconuts and snails for food, and that's what I did.  I did put out my lines for some fish, but I spent a lot of time getting those coconuts and snails so that I could get my basic needs met so that if I did happen to catch a fish, it would be gravy.

3. You can't do it all yourself

While I was alone for the first few days of the experience, at some point I joined up with some others and I was reminded of the exponential power of a team.  

I remembered a story about something called the Köhler Effect.  This is named after a German industrial psychologist who did an experiment in the 1920s.  He asked members of a Berlin rowing club to do curls with a heavy weight until they were so exhausted that they could not go on.

He then would pair that person with another person or maybe a third and they together held a weight that they had to lift as a team.  The catch?  They didn't know the weight was effectively the same: Köhler always made sure that the bar weight was such that the equal share would be the same as the individual weight.

What happened?  The groups went longer than any of their weakest members had gone as individuals.  People didn't want to be the weak link, especially when the moment they quit, everyone else would have to quit soon afterwards.

Teams should deliver exponential performance or they aren't worthy of the name team.

4. Hold team members accountable

The Köhler Effect underlines that you're only as strong as your weakest link, and unsurprisingly, even for a volunteer desert island survival experience, there were weak links.  One guy, in particular, never seemed around to catch fish or to help carry wood, but he was always there at meal time.

From grade school to grad school, there's always that weak person in a group project, and in business, those weak members bring down your team.  At some point we told this guy that if he wasn't contributing he had to leave the group.

It reminded me that sometimes I need to be more ruthless with letting underperforming employees go.  They aren't doing anyone any good, and worse, they can demoralize those team members that are actually performing.

5.  You can normalize the uncomfortable

I saved my favorite lesson of my experience for the last.  Turns out that gutting fish, eating snails, chasing birds, and hunting stingrays isn't the most pleasant way to spend your day.  But when you have to, you have to.

I would never normally do any of those things  But I did.  And doing so normalized them.

Humans are versatile.  We can get used to comfort and discomfort really quickly.

Too too in business.  Who likes making cold calls?  Some fraction of 1%, right?  That's the point.  You don't have to like to do something, you just have to know that it's a key part of moving your business forward.  

Catch the snail.  Gut the fish.  Move forward.

Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

This article was written by Neel from MaidThis Franchise, a remote-local franchise opportunity for people looking to escape the rate race and reach financial freedom. Learn more here.