Navigating through treacherous waters

There’s something incredibly primal about facing something treacherous but doing it anyway.

– Martin Henderson, New Zealand actor

I once watched an old film clip of a group of indigenous peoples navigating treacherous rapids deep in Borneo’s interior.

It was amazing how they attacked the route they have chosen through the rapids, and how they rowed their ‘long boat’ in tandem, focusing on each intermediate objective as they tackled the different obstacles along the huge rapids.

What a relief to see them reach the top of the rapids safe and sound — no one fell overboard, and all their belongings were safe and intact.

Clearly, the so-called simple natives and savages, have done their reading of their environment, undertook some strategic analyses, which were as well as, or even better than, that taught nowadays in the best business schools like Harvard, Wharton, Sloan, Insead, and so on.

Definitely, they knew what their own strengths and weaknesses were, the nature of challenges faced, and they had the tenacity and focus of execution, to get to where they wanted to be. They couldn’t afford to fail, because failure could mean death or loss of everything they had onboard that single long boat.

To them, failure is not an option. They had to get to the other side of the rapids. Safely and with everyone and everything intact. They were in their elements, at one with and masters of their environment. Perhaps, there is a lesson or two from that clip I was talking about.

One of the things I like to keep reminding my staff about is that ‘in everything there is a strategy’. In virtually any area of one’s life there are obvious and effective, and sometimes simple, solutions that can dramatically increase one’s success. 

We need to think and strategise. The solutions are actually so evident but very often the problem is, we just don’t see them.

The same goes in business or other forms of enterprises, or human undertakings. I’d like to quote two simple but true examples of simple solutions. The first one relates to the ice cream, which was apparently invented a long time ago, in 2000 BC. But yet it took thirty-nine hundred years before someone figured out the ice-cream cone as a means to eat or enjoy ice cream! 

Next is the bread.  Bread was baked way back in 2600 BC, but it took four thousand three hundred years for somebody to put two slices together and create the sandwich. 

By the way, the name sandwich was attributed to an English earl who, in 1762, popularised the sandwich as we know it.  The man, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was said to have invented the sandwich that we take for granted today.

The point is, very often we fail to make the obvious connections. One can imagine that there are endless number of unmade connections that are still existing out there, especially in the business world. These are simple and obvious solutions that can dramatically increase our power, influence, income and success. But the problem is, we just fail to see the obvious and the actually so evident.

Which brings us to the next obvious question, which is “why”? The word which was popularised by Socrates, and which cost him his life. What is it that blinds us to the obvious and to that which is actually evident? 

In the business world, or even in the non-business world, the blindness or rather blinded-ness, can happen because the company, business or person in question has failed to see who the real “customers or clients” are. The whole perspective is wrong, misaligned and thoughtless.

The Webster’s Dictionary definitions of these seemingly identical words are enlightening:

Customer:  A person who purchases a commodity or service.

Client: A person who is under the protection of another.

From the definition given, the difference in meaning of the words ‘Customer’ and ‘Client’ is massive and miles apart. In particular, the difference lies in the way that a person who is doing business with you could or should be treated.

Whatever you want to call them in your business or field of endeavour, always think of your customers as a client, namely a “person who is under our protection” or whose interest, satisfaction and wellbeing, you’ll uphold as paramount. 

When we say someone is a client or “under our protection” it means that we don’t sell people a product or service just so we can make the largest one-time profit. That is not a client for you but a victim. 

In other words, the focus must be on the welfare or wellbeing of the person, to qualify him or her as your client. You must understand and appreciate exactly what your clients need when they do business with you. Even if they are not able, for one reason or another, to articulate the exact result themselves. 

You lead them to the outcome that they need. Your focus is on them, not yourself. In other words, we have a responsibility to the clients, whose interest and well-being are constantly under our watch. We have our heart in the right place.

Navigating the often rough and treacherous waters of our world need not be a harrowing task. Even the toughest of rapids can be forged if we have the right perspective, correct strategy and astute execution. And we must be at one with the elements at all times.

The indigenous peoples of the rainforest in that film clip have shown us the way, of what it takes to navigate the fast-flowing waters of the rapids on our mighty rivers. A fitting metaphor for navigating the tumultuous rivers and rapids of life.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.