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From the moment I took my first breath underwater as a scuba diver, I fell in love with the world that lives beneath the surface — I find absolute peace and tranquility when I relax in the water and immerse myself in the great diversity of life thriving under the surface. With each dive, I see more clearly how the world of scuba parallels business, and how applying those parallels can be transformative for companies.
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1. Never stop breathing
As short-term visitors to the awe-inspiring wonders of the underwater world, water has many dangers for our land-based physiology. Some you’ve probably heard of, such as “the bends” (or what is more appropriately called decompression sickness), whereas others may be less commonly known, such as lung overexpansion injury or simply becoming disoriented and potentially lost. However, the most fundamental skill, the thing we do when we first are born, is breathing. So in scuba, we never stop breathing. As long as you are breathing, some injuries can be avoided and many others can be solved.
In the business world, this means constantly paying attention to the most important things. Don’t let yourself get distracted because when you are pulled away from your key objectives and allow yourself to forget the fundamentals, you put the life of your organization on the line. This isn’t to say we are so consumed by the fundamentals as to miss opportunities, but rather that we keep doing the fundamentals, making them routine and monitored so that we can discover new modes and expand our business.
2. Relax, don’t rush
Sometimes, when you dive, your excitement level is high and your adrenaline is pumping wildly. You are rushing to get off the boat and into the water, but you can’t let yourself get too lost in that because it can cause you to make mistakes or miss a problem that is easily solved at the surface but may not be so easily solved at depth.
Because of today’s always-on environment, there’s a tendency for professionals to get caught up in the moment too; they get tunnel vision focused on the potential of the latest idea and forget to take time to look around, reflect a bit on the possibility and make a good decision. You might be so energized by a new partnership or project, for example, that you don’t really take the time to analyze your information or the market. Similarly, you can be so eager to get something out to buyers that quality or service suffers. Make sure the adrenaline of the moment isn’t clouding your vision. Be as thorough as you can without sacrificing your ability to compete.
3. Find a buddy
When you dive, your buddy is your lifeline and you’re theirs. You each look out for the other and make sure nothing is overlooked, and if something does go wrong, then you work together and use your shared resources and brainpower to find a solution. Your buddy is often the one person you can count on to tell you when something looks out of place on your gear and the one person who post-dive will give you some perspective on your dive, which you cannot necessarily see yourself.
The exact same thing happens in the office. If you find the right colleague, vendor or mentor to support you through your journey, then it’s easier to find ways over company hurdles and avoid serious problems like burnout. This may be the one person who can tell us how we are being perceived by others, allowing us to adjust, grow and learn.
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4. Plan your dive and dive your plan
To reduce risk, divers enter the water with a clear plan about what they’re going to do. But they never leave it at just Plan A. They come up with reserves and contingencies so they can get back safely to the surface even if something goes wrong. As an example, in a recent dive, I came across a lost diver at a depth of around 100 feet who was low on air. Because I included reserve air in my contingency plan, and because my buddy and I had worked out in advance what we would do in various situations, we were able to change our plan and lead the lost diver safely back to the surface.
In your job, luck or random acts of management might get you a few wins. But the more you plan and create good contingencies, the more agile you can be no matter what comes up. And the more you learn, the better your contingencies and ability to adapt become too.
5. Have fun!
Part of the reason I’m in love with diving is that it gives me the chance to let go and experience things that are beautiful and satisfying. Yes, I need to be careful and planful. But I can see turtles swimming by or giant goliath groupers snoozing or a nurse shark checking me out or I can play with a pod of dolphins. I can look at amazing coral formations or even pause and watch a school of hammerheads go by gracefully. Those fun things make the sport worth the risk.
Is business serious stuff? Absolutely. But business is about relationships, and relationships form when you relax and really enjoy what you’re doing together. As a mentor once remarked to me, winning is great, but winning with friends is great and much more satisfying. That usually means being able to see people for who they really are and appreciate all the interesting things that happen as you work. So remember that you only go this way once. Plan some fun activities into your operations, and your sense of connection — not to mention your innovation — will be worth lauding.
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Apply the lessons from scuba as you discover your own outlet
As a professional, I’m applying what I learn from diving all the time. As a volunteer scuba diver for the New York Aquarium, I’ve learned, for example, that dropping a tool in a tank is much more dangerous for otters than for penguins — otters are really curious and are more likely to explore and hurt themselves with lost tools, whereas penguins could care less about the stuff you lose. In the same way, when Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf Coast, I recognized that, compared to a recent payroll outage, the storm really was an “otter” emergency that assumed priority.
With this in mind, all great thinkers, from Isaac Newton to Steve Jobs, benefit from an enduring distraction that lets their subconscious mind recharge and prompts their best creativity flow. Scuba is that distraction for me. For you, it might be hiking, riding a bike or even birdwatching. So even if you never get under the water (though I hope you do), find your outlet and take the lessons I’ve outlined to heart. They’ll stay relevant no matter where your career might take you and no matter how much the market might pivot.