When I am on vacation or travelling, I often pick up a new business book to learn more about management, marketing or leadership. This time I decided to pick up a book and read for sheer pleasure. As I walked through LAX, a book called Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson caught my eye.
The book was about two very accomplished scuba divers who went on a journey to find a legendary pirate ship in the Dominican Republic called the Golden Fleece. These divers were no rookies. Each had experience with many wrecks, including the Titanic and other notable ships. The book wove their personal journey to find the ship with the journey of the pirate ship of the late 1600’s.
The first lesson I was reminded of was research and homework. The divers had an understanding of the location of the ship they were looking for and other pieces of data. The ship was sunk in a bay that was more than 20 miles across and was sitting in 24 feet of water. With that information, they started their search. They did much more research as the weeks and months ensued. They learned the pirate of the Golden Fleece was no ordinary pirate. He was an accomplished English merchant marine named Bannister who turned rogue and became a pirate. Bannister went to battle with two English Navy ships and defeated them.
The two leaders of this dive expedition went to great lengths over the next several months to continue to understand more about the pirate and the location of the battle. They discovered the ship sank in the battle with the English Navy and Bannister and his men escaped. The divers needed an understanding of why Bannister, a well-established merchant marine with one of the largest ships and a charter from the English government, would become a pirate and draw the English Navy into a battle.
How does this amount of research show up in our businesses? If you were going to launch a new product or service, go into a new market, or start a new venture, how much research would you do? That obviously depends on the business you are in, venturing into, or the type of product/service you are going to launch. It was crystal clear for me that launching a new product/service requires a lot of research and investment, just like searching for a legendary pirate ship. Make sure that you have the appetite (money and desire) to invest in the research to get to market.
The second lesson I learned was teamwork and leadership. Whether a diver or a pirate, it takes teamwork and leadership. The divers built a team of diverse individuals with different skills. They didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but they all had the common goal of finding the Golden Fleece. As it turns out, the pirates didn’t see eye-to-eye either. Pirates had a strict code of conduct of their own. The divers learned that Bannister turned rogue to spread democracy as did many of the pirates of the day. The European countries were primarily monarchies and pirate ships were run as democracies. On a pirate ship, all men shared equally in the bounty, no matter their rank – even the captain. Crews could also overthrow the captain when they felt the captain was no longer fit to lead.
I can’t begin to count the number of ways this shows up in our businesses and lives, so I will name just a few. We are all leaders in our businesses and work as teams. Lone rangers don’t survive in business. Teamwork and leadership shows up in the ability to motivate and mobilize teams of people to achieve common goals. The better our communication, understanding of each other’s skills and common focus, the more successful we will be. Captains were leaders that could be overthrown by their crews if they were unfit. In business, the same holds true, just not as violently. Today’s leaders are not killed and do not walk the plank, but their businesses falter or fail and their lives can become miserable. This happens when our businesses lack vision and purpose, we don’t communicate with our teams, and our teams become disengaged.
The last lesson that I was reminded of was persistence. The divers on this expedition were very persistent. The story unfolded over a period of more than a year. They spent the first few months in the Dominican Republic mapping the sea floor of the bay where they believed the pirate ship sank. Once the sea floor was mapped, they dove every place they received a “hit” to see what was there. They turned over every bit of that bay over a period of a few months before they took a break to do more research. They researched the national archives in couple of different countries. They interviewed anyone who had knowledge of this pirate’s battle with the English Navy. There were several times when they wanted to give up, but they were persistent and stuck to the search.
Where does this show up in our businesses? As entrepreneurs and CEO’s, I believe that many of us are visionary and not operational in nature. This is not bad – this is just a fact. As this type of leader, we are not always persistent. We will have a vision, articulate it somewhat and then launch on achieving it. After some time, if it is not achieved we will move on to the next thing. Our teams would say that we don’t stick with things and we are continuously changing. I would offer that before we launch a new product/service, venture into a new market or start a new business, we need a written plan that specifies what we are trying to accomplish, what steps we will take to accomplish our vision and the point at which we have achieved success OR failure and need to move on.
I didn’t pick up a business book to read, but I did relate the book back to the same things that I see operating my business and advising clients on running their businesses. I also learned that some of the same concerns of 400 years ago, like teamwork and leadership, are still concerns today.