It was a clear, sunny morning on Labor Day when a group of 20 explorers gathered at Kannat Garden apartments to trek to the top of the 1,154-foot high Mount Tapochau. Never mind that none of us had ever hiked the route before-we were up to the challenge.
Prior to our departure we discussed a plan to stick together as a group to ensure no one was lost and we could all claim the victory of conquering the “mountain”. Our best estimate was that we would finish the hike in two hours and be back in plenty of time for lunch. We checked if everyone had water and most of us did, so with water bottles in hand and one machete to hack through the jungle growth, we started on our grand adventure. The trail was a little wet and muddy from rainfall, and we quickly realized that shorts and tennis shoes weren't the best attire to maneuver through the dense vegetation.
We knew our estimate was way off when two hours passed and Tapochau was not in site. When we emerged from the jungle, we were still less than halfway to the top. One person commented that it would be better if we could not see the goal. That way we could blissfully continue our hike without realizing how far we had to go. With a clear view, we could survey the area and see that moving directly toward the top would have us go through more jungle. Below we saw a dirt road that led into the jungle, and maybe it would lead us to our goal. Fatigued and almost out of water, it was decided by the leader (the person holding the machete) that we should take the easy route and follow the road.
It was nice to stroll along the road without having to duck through tree limbs and climb loose rocks, but our road lead us further on a downward path. When I took a compass reading, it showed that we were moving away from Tapochau, but that didn't concern our happy hikers because the road was easier to walk on. Some younger, more restless hikers decided to run the rest of the way, and from that point our cohesive group split into fragments. When our road intersected with another dirt road we debated whether to go left or right, and we weren't sure where the other hikers went. Our “shortcut” had led us further away from the top, our water was almost gone, and we still had to walk on steep roads to make it to the top.
We had arranged for a few people to bring their vehicles and give us rides home, so when some individuals reached the top they called for rides. What started out as a fun, two-hour hike to Tapochau ended up as an exhausting four-hour ordeal in the sun with all our water supply depleted. Some made it to the top, others were still trudging along the road when vehicles arrived to pick them up, and a few surrendered and sat on the side of the road to wait for the relief party to save them.
Here are some hard-earned lessons from a hike to Tapochau that can loosely be applied to business.
Have a plan before you start a venture and stick with the plan, but be flexible if the need arises. Many entrepreneurs fail to plan, and inadvertently plan to fail. The plan allows everyone to know the business “game plan” and helps keep everyone on the same page.
Make sure you have the needed resources before you start, and adjust your estimates. It will almost always take more time to complete an activity and cost more than you project. Determine the critical resources you must have and make sure you have additional supplies if you run out.
Get assistance or find someone to consult that has been where you want to go. Consult with experts or people who have experience operating a similar business. They will be well worth the money and could save you from making costly decisions that would lead you further away from your goal.
Once you start on your venture, it will be like heading into the jungle where there are many things that can cause you to lose sight of your goals. Make sure to keep your eye on the goal and take frequent compass readings to determine if you are heading in the right direction.
Always look for better ways to do things more efficiently, but beware of the “shortcuts” that can tempt you to cut corners. Many distributors in the U.S. are realizing that the “shortcuts” that Chinese manufacturers use to cut costs are going to cost them a lot of money in the long-term (i.e., lead-based paints on toys).
Just because you're the boss, does not mean you should not get input from others before making major decisions. The one who holds the “machete” is not necessarily the only one with all the answers. Talk to your staff and get them to share their ideas. You might be surprised what they have to say.
Finally, if you get split up, regroup and keep everyone motivated. If you don't, you'll have a fragmented organization where some in the front feel they are working hard to blaze a trail so others can follow, while those left behind just mentally lay on the side of the road and wait for another company to pick them up.
Many businesses in the CNMI are exhausted hacking through all the harsh conditions to stay in business and keep qualified employees. They are experiencing a depletion of basic supplies (reliable electricity and water) and are loosing site of their original destination. Even though everyone as a group is experiencing the same challenges, some will still find a way to make it to the top. We hope you find the determination to take charge of the journey to reach your goals in business and blaze the trail to help others find their way to the top in this jungle of thick adversity.