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What scuba diving has taught me about business

What scuba diving has taught me about business
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What scuba diving has taught me about business

I'm not a big fan of management buzz-speak. When I take a deep dive it's to around 40 metres. That's because one of my favourite things to do is scuba-diving. And, believe it or not, scuba diving can give you a lot of perspective on the world of business.

The importance of teamwork

First off, I know that businesses depend on teamwork. So does scuba-diving. With scuba, there's the buddy you dive with and the person in the boat who you rely on to be there when you come to the surface. You need to have considerable confidence and trust in both or else it's not going to be a lot of fun. That lesson can be taken into business. The strongest teams are those that really trust each other.

In scuba, trust is built from the knowledge that your dive buddy and boat person know what they're doing. Specifically that they've accumulated enough experience to have good judgement and make sound decisions (potentially split-second ones that might save your life).

In software development, decisions are generally less time-constrained but can be no less critical. It remains the case that you need the right personalities, together with the right skills and experience, to build a truly cohesive team.

Dive to plan

Divers also need to plan ahead. We say "Plan your dive and dive to your plan". A typical dive plan covers where you enter the water and, depending on the site and the current, where you come out. There's often a step plan for the dive itself. You descend to a certain depth and spend a specific amount of time there, then ascend say 10 metres and spend a set amount of time there, and so on.

You might be diving on a wreck, or cave diving, so you plan where you'll go on the wreck, each room and for how long, or how deeply you'll penetrate a cave. Plans can get pretty elaborate. It's a reminder that teams need to have shared goals and agree on how to achieve them.

Of course divers also need to be able to communicate mid-dive and amend the plan according to changing circumstances. Maybe the current's stronger than expected, or you're sharing the water with fishhooks, or speedboats, or more sharks than you'd like. We often build decision points into the plan. It's anticipating that plans change and being able to adapt to that.

The incident pit

Divers also talk about "the incident pit". The incident pit starts off with shallow sides that progressively get steeper until they're impossibly vertical and there's no way out.

The idea is that a minor inconvenience like a leaking mask can quickly deteriorate into a life-threatening incident if you don't take it seriously. The mask leaks, then the strap snaps, then the mask falls off and you're in big trouble. The lesson being that businesses need to react quickly to things going off-plan and not shrug off minor issues. Pay attention to the warning signs and get out of the incident pit before it's too late.

Running out of air

My final thought is that you need to enjoy diving. You need to get a buzz from the experience of exploring and seeing things with your own eyes. Otherwise, it's just not worth doing.

Some people simply don't like diving. They find it very scary. And when you're stressed, you run out of air much more quickly. An air tank might last a calm diver for an hour while someone who can't relax will use up the same-sized tank in 10 minutes.

Good pressure to get things right

Maybe my working at my company IT consultancy is a bit like diving on a reef. We get to peek in at interesting and complicated businesses, each a microcosm of commerce in its own right. I work with a team of people I rate highly and trust. There's a good level of pressure to get it right. And we plan and adapt the plan if circumstances change.

Looking and helping other people's businesses always includes a level of exploration, so we make a point of hiring people who are happy outside of their comfort zone, solving problems that there's no manual for. Each dive gives you more experience and more preparation for the challenges of the next dive. We want the kind of people who want to be part of a team

Most of all, you have to enjoy what you do at work. Like diving, there's little point doing it if you're not having a good time. The constant challenge and opportunity to learn keeps both diving and work fresh for me.

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