Deep Survival: A Lesson For Small Business

July 6, 2006

I recently read Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales, which I could hardly put down. Subtitled Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why the book is a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of survival in life threatening situations.

The core message? The ones that survive avalanches, airplane crashes, being snow bound, or cast adrift in inadequate life boats are those that manage to suppress their urge to panic long enough to ask — and answer — the essential question of survival: What do I do next to survive?

I have been involved with small and solo businesses for most of my working career, and one thing I have learned is that focusing on survival is a necessity. And just like a bunch of frightened passengers tossed into a lifeboat from a sinking yacht, getting clarity on what each person should be focused on can be very difficult, but it is essential. Someone should be bailing, while another should be fishing, and a third should be on the lookout for boats on the horizon. Everybody looking for boats — and no one bailing — is a recipe for disaster.

This existential aspect of business execution is perhaps the key reason that few individuals survive as soloists. It is difficult to determine what is the most important thing to do next and then to execute on that, even if the task is outside your comfort zone. If the next most critical thing is to find more clients, those that are introverts will shy away. If the next thing is collecting payables, those that find discussing money difficult will defer that phone call. If the next thing is writing a long marketing piece, those that are more sociable will find an excuse to linger with a client rather than face a blank white page.

I have often characterized life as an entrepreneur as being something like jumping headfirst down an empty elevator shaft. A seriously life-threatening undertaking. And how to pick out those entrepreneurs that are likely to survive? Just wait a short period of time, and you won’t have to guess: survivors survive. They calm their fears, make a short list of the absolutely essential things to do, and then do them.

So, we should face each day as if we are being stalked by sabre-toothed tigers, cast away on an Antarctic ice floe, or lost in the Sahara. Make that list — and it should be less than three things! — and then start with number one.

about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.