What business can learn from scuba diving

Get trained
ou can’t (legally) dive without being qualified. Knowing what to do, and when to do it, is the most important aspect of becoming a good diver. Likewise, most business people have had at least some form of training; either formal studies or on-the-job experience that shows them how to deal with a variety of different situations.

Get plenty of practice, because putting your training into action will make you a better performer.

And like many scuba divers, additional or specialist training can make all the difference. I’m qualified as a Rescue Diver which means that I have been trained to deal with unusual situations that can occur under the waves. Taking a specific business course may also give you that edge over your competition. I recently completed a Master of International Business Degree which has given me valuable new insights into global management, cross cultural business practice and the latest in strategy development.

Breathe, dammit!
It may sound strange, but the first thing that any reputable diving course teaches you is to NEVER hold your breath… remember to breathe! This advice is also sound when it comes to business; inevitably there will be times when it becomes downright ‘difficult to breathe’. At this difficult time when the economy is uncertain it is even more important than ever to remain calm and not panic. Remember, a well thought through and executed strategy is a much better bet than acting on an ‘ad hoc’ basis and arguably jumping out of the fry pan and into the fire!

In some business circumstances we might be tempted to 'hold our breath' and wait and see what happens. Just as with scuba, where holding your breathe can kill you, the consequences in business can kill your business. Measured, regular breathing shows that you are in control and therefore can react in the most appropriate manner to unforeseen or unusual business occurrences.

Don’t panic
Staying in control is inextricably linked with the scuba diver's worst enemy… panic. Remaining calm and learning not to panic comes a close second to remembering to breathe.

On occasions as a diver you’ll find yourself in a precarious situation; equipment malfunction, low or no air, losing your dive buddy or becoming disoriented are not uncommon. Knowing what to do in the event that something happens is critical, and our training drums into us ‘stop, breathe, think and act’.

And so it is with business. A ‘knee-jerk’ reaction could mean the difference between managing your way out of a corner and going under (no pun intended). But observing this scuba diving safety rule could be key to a safe dive. Weighing up all the options and thinking before acting can make a world of difference when confronted by a seemingly insurmountable business hurdle.

Be in good physical shape
Divers don’t need to have the fitness of a triathlete, but the fitter you are, the less stressful and more enjoyable diving inevitably becomes. In business, it’s amazing how many business people add to their stress by not exercising, by smoking and by drinking too excess, or applying inordinate amounts of pressure to themselves. Cemeteries are full of indispensable executives..

Never dive alone
ne of the key scuba diving safety rules is to always dive with a buddy no matter how well you think you know a dive site. Every one needs a buddy, whether it’s diving or business. It may be as simple as having someone to use as a sounding board to bounce your ideas off, or as formal as having someone senior as a mentor. Either way, having someone to ‘watch your back’ is a good thing.

My experience in a variety of corporate environments is to ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer.’ Having an ally, or at least someone that you can really trust when the going gets tough is gold. Just as with scuba diving, having a trusted buddy can be the difference between life and death.

Know the conditions
Mother Nature is a powerful force and nothing is more fickle than the sea. Diving is meant to be fun and not a battle with the elements, so we need to take care to monitor our diving situation. It’s the same in business and as I write this the world is being faced (yet again) with more economic upheaval. Today more than ever we must know what drives our markets, customers and operating environment. We don’t operate in a vacuum, so it’s critical to stay abreast of what’s happening out there. Get out and see your customers; understand what the markets drivers are; try to anticipate the external influences that may affect your business. In diving your safety is your responsibility; in business, success or failure is up to you.

Ascend slowly and with control
As a scuba diver ascends, our body is ridding itself of nitrogen that’s dissolved in our bloodstream. If you ascend too quickly, you risk getting DCI (decompression illness), or ‘the bends’.

In business, one of the main aims is growth. But a business can grow too fast, and the failure to grow at a sustainable, manageable rate is like getting DCI: if you grow too fast without the capital or other resources to support that growth, spending and sound financial management practices get out of control.

Becoming too large too soon can leave you vulnerable. Cash flows can suffer as overheads and customer demands increase. Unchecked, such rapid growth could have the same affect as ascending from a dive too quickly- the business bubble can burst (just like your lungs). So be aware and always ensure that there are control mechanisms in place to ensure that the business continues to grow in a sustainable manner.

Plan your dive and dive your plan
This is a ‘diving mantra’ that every scuba diver around the world can recite; its sound advice for both divers and businesses. I am still amazed at the number of outwardly successful businesses that have either no or only a rudimentary business plan. To use another well-worn business truism: ‘fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Look at your business plan as your roadmap (or GPS these days). It should detail the what, why, how and when of your business. Don’t be afraid to put your commercial objectives on paper and remember to visit them often. Why? Because your objectives are sure to change and quite quickly.  Be sure to build in contingencies, because rarely, if ever, do even the best thought out plans run to script. Your plan should be dynamic and reflect the ever-changing business landscape. But if your business strategy is sound, the main elements of your business plan can and should be executed.

With the right training, equipment, frame of mind and support scuba diving is a safe, exhilarating and fun sport. So is business. It should be fun, rewarding and challenging but it shouldn’t kill you! Whether you’re diving or running a business, enjoy the journey, try to relax, think, and work your plan.

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