Diving to New Depths
There’s no getting around danger. It’s an inherent part of business, and also part of scuba diving, my respite from the budgets and board calls. Diving into exotic waters, exploring new territory and testing my limits a hundred feet beneath the ocean’s surface have taught me a lot about life and work. For the past 12 years I’ve been running a leather manufacturing business, and I’ve found that scuba diving has given me the skills I need to run it successfully.
Ignore Your Instincts
During our dives, we constantly come across situations where we must trust the equipment, rather than our instinct or drive. That’s tough to do as an entrepreneur, considering instincts are what made me successful in the first place. But in diving, you reach a point where you can’t push yourself for the sake of your ego. For instance, if your equipment indicates that you are low on air, you must return to the surface and abandon your dive. Otherwise, you’re putting yourself in danger.
In business, sometimes I get carried away by my instincts, and I overlook things. In 2000, we started working on a unique project developing a stretchable leather. Because this was a new concept in Asia and the leather world, I took the lead on developing the technology. The project became so important to my ego that I didn’t want to see it fail. I began to get carried away and ignored the reports and bottom line. When we finally looked at the numbers, we decided it was not worth doing and stopped immediately. Looking back, I feel lucky to have avoided such a costly project.
Adopt the Buddy System
I love the concept of the buddy system in scuba diving. It’s mandatory that every time we dive, we must take a buddy along with us. We not only dive together, but we also have complete knowledge of one another’s equipment. Even though we’re diving on our own, we have a backup in case of emergencies. I follow the same rule in my business. No matter which level of management they’re in, members of our team must have a buddy. They perform their own tasks, but they also have complete knowledge of their companion’s work, strengths and weaknesses.
Minimize the Risk
When I tell people how deep I go on some dives, they say it’s too risky. I tell them that not taking the risk is the biggest risk of all. Scuba diving has taught me that taking an intentional risk is the best form of risk minimization. When we’re exploring a new dive site, we must equip ourselves with the proper tools to pre-calculate the risk. We use these tools to know the depth, types of species, wind and water currents we might encounter. This way, we minimize the amount of risk we face.
In business, financial risk is one of the key factors we watch. Before we start developing a new product, for example, we always put a financial value to the failure and success of the product. This helps us stay prepared for the risks involved and potential failures.
Add Variations to Your Plans
Exploring new variations is an important aspect of staying successful. Sometimes, looking for a slight variation of the same dive site can open up a new world of information and adventure. I approach my business in the same way. I am always ready to look into process and structure variations.
In 2008, when energy and fuel costs skyrocketed, we decided to look into our procedures. We found that by reducing a percentage of water consumption and adjusting time in the process, we could get additional chemical uptake, thus reducing our costs by five percent. Because we looked at variations in our working plan, we were able to save a few million dollars.
All in all, scuba diving is as exciting as it is educational. Whether I’m underwater or at work, I’ve learned that by occasionally ignoring my instincts, leveraging my peers, making calculated risks and adopting new methods, I can reach deeper depths of learning and explore new areas of growth.