I have many friends who are entrepreneurs, and I have many friends who are explorers. Even though their paths rarely cross, I believe they are kindred spirits. As such, they have much to learn from each other. Here are 5 lessons that explorers can learn from their entrepreneurial brothers and sisters:
1. IDEAS ARE A DIME A DOZEN
All entrepreneurs suffer from a common disease, Idea-itis, which essentially results in the proliferation of countless business ideas … each of them with the potential to turn into “the next Facebook” or to “change the world.” Unfortunately, they eventually find that there are very few original ideas, and regardless ideas are not nearly as important as execution. As the saying goes, “talk is cheap.” In fact, a popular refrain among early-stage investors is that “flawless execution always trumps a superior plan.”
Likewise, all explorers have multiple ideas for expeditions … each of them with the potential for huge scientific discoveries or other successes. Unfortunately, a relatively small percentage of these ideas are turned into successful expeditions. Explorers should instead concentrate their efforts on creating plans for their expeditions and executing them.
2. FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS
As a follow-on to the previous lesson, entrepreneurs are always told to “focus, focus, focus,” especially in the early stages of their ventures. Even once they pick a single business idea and start executing on their plan, it is too tempting to start growing and expanding before the young company is ready. With limited resources, a new venture cannot afford any distractions.
Once an explorer chooses to pursue a particular expedition and begins executing on that plan, they should maintain focus throughout the process. It is far too easy to lose sight of the mission objectives, so explorers should avoid getting distracted by other additional objectives … what consultants call “scope creep.” The most successful expeditions push the limits of the team and its resources, but always focused toward a common objective.
3. FAILURE CAN (AND SHOULD) BE AN OPTION
Part of what makes Silicon Valley, well, Silicon Valley, is that technology entrepreneurs there live by the code of “fail early, fail often.” The general precept is that you don’t want to spend too much time, money, and resources pursuing a business model that was flawed from the beginning. You would much prefer to find out early if your idea is doomed, so you can switch to a better idea. The underlying premise is that nothing is a true failure as long as you learn from it and apply those lessons to future ventures.
This particular entrepreneurial lesson does not carry over 100% to the world of exploration, because in this line of work failure can often lead to personal injury or even death. However, despite this caveat, the general idea still holds. Every successful expedition in human history built upon the work of earlier explorers … some successful, others not so much. No failed mission is a true failure as long as we can learn from it and apply those lessons to future expeditions. In fact, often this type of mentality is precisely what can save lives when expeditions hit insurmountable obstacles and expedition leaders are willing to turn back short of their mission objective rather than take on unnecessary risks.
4. NEVER BE THE SMARTEST PERSON IN THE ROOM
Early-stage investors like to say “we invest in teams, not ideas.” Likewise, almost every successful entrepreneur credits their venture’s success to the strength of their team. Unless an entrepreneur is Steve Jobs, they should never be the smartest person in the room, because they can always benefit from the expertise and experience of other members of their team. In startups, this means building a team comprised of the best people an entrepreneur knows who can help with finance, sales, operations, engineering, etc. Guy Kawasaki has said that at Apple they lived by the saying, “A players hire A+ players, but B players hire C players, and C players hire D players.”
While they may have the idea for an expedition and the drive to push it to success, explorers should remember that they cannot do everything by themselves. Not only is exploration a “team sport,” but also explorers need to have enough self-confidence to surround themselves with experts who are much more experienced and knowledgeable than they are.
5. GREED … IS GOOD
In the 1987 film Wall Street, Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko, famously declared that “greed is good.” While many entrepreneurs have adopted that as their mantra, Gekko never really uttered those exact words. More insightful entrepreneurs are familiar with the full quotation, which also provides good lessons for explorers:
Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures, the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms–greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge–has marked the upward surge of mankind, and greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.
We all seem to accept that true explorers must have a passion for their work. While cooperation and collaboration among explorers is arguably preferable to ruthless competition, the most successful explorers throughout history have been extremely “greedy”… at least by the general concepts in Gekko’s speech. They strive for knowledge and achievement with all of their might, and they absolutely will not let anything stand in their way. Granted, we might call this more “perseverance” or “ambition” than “greed,” but the personal drive is the same: in order to accomplish great feats, explorers should desire huge success for themselves, for their teams, and for their expeditions.
Guillermo A. Söhnlein
Founder & CEO
Blue Marble Exploration
Atlanta, GA, USA