In 2010, a Chilean mine collapsed, trapping thirty-three miners, nearly half a mile underground, helpless, and without any chance of getting out.
Over the next few days, various teams collaborated with the purpose of finding the miners and rescuing them. Drilling the hard rock was a dangerous job as the mine could collapse even more and nobody really knew exactly where the trapped men were located.
Once they were found, rescue teams had to start building a rescue tunnel; a process that would take months.
As the events unfolded, I was mesmerized by the efforts of the rescue teams. The combined effort of the groups enabled them to meet the drilling target even sooner than expected.
Despite the obstacles on their way, the rescue teams illustrated how the impossible can become possible, not only in critical situations as a collapsed mine, but the same principles can be translated into your business, too.
If you’re facing a situation that looks unachievable, then ask yourself:
How can I replicate the steps into my own business to achieve my goal?
1- Set a clear goal
Thousands of articles and studies mention that you should have a clear goal, but often times, the goal is not that clear.
If I ask you today what is your business goal? You have thought about it, and it is where you want to go. But does your team understand it as clearly as you do?
If your goal is clear to you, are you letting other tasks get in the way on your day to day operations?
Your goal is your number one priority and all the efforts your team produces, should be pointed to that target. As the rescue teams understood that the goal was to bring those men back to the surface and pointed every effort into that direction, so must your team understand your aim and place their focus on that as well.
Sure, the road to achieving their outcome was not straight; there were some problems on the way that made them go from plan A to plan B, and later on from plan B to plan C. But the goal was still there – it did not change. It remained until it was completed.
2- Set a target date
Everything that does not have a deadline tends to be placed on the backburner in the presence of more pressing (and sometimes less important) distractions. It can take ages to be completed, or it ends up at the end of our ‘to do’ list, to be completed “someday” or when you “have time”.
We naturally stretch time to the furthest extent possible. How many times did you finish a job or prepared a presentation just before the deadline?
This is called Parkinson’s Law and we have all been subject to it at some point in our lives. According to Wikipedia, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
By placing a date of completion, we add pressure and discomfort to ourselves in order to meet the deadline. We cannot stretch time as we wish to, because the clock will continue ticking. If we don´t finish our job, we will be late.
Deadlines are what makes us take action. Evaluate how much time it will take to complete your goal and set the end date. Commit to it and ensure your team does too.
Now that you have your goal and your deadline, place it on a board, in a visible place. Start working on it today, because the clock won´t stop for your business.
3- Test strategies
In the rescue team´s situation, each team relied on their expertise to achieve the goal. They had to devise strategies for how they would go from the surface to the miners’ shelter underground using the knowledge and resources available to them.
The same applies to your business goal.
You have a goal, you know where we want to go, but how do you get there?
The strategy you build will be your journey and that journey has actions which you need to evaluate for efficacy. For instance, let´s say that you want to have a more coordinated team. You have experienced some communication problems, duplicated work or missing deadlines.
With a clear evaluation of your current situation and what you wish to achieve, using the resources you have, you need to define the journey to a first stage that will help you achieve end final goal. For instance, some strategies could be:
- clearly defining who will do XYZ,
- implementing an app for your team where they can track their work and results, and
- having a brief group meeting at the start of every week.
Every few days, evaluate how your strategies are performing. Are they giving results? Do you need to discard one of the strategies in favour of another one?
4- Create easily digestible stages
Every goal needs to be broken down into stages, which are the steps that you climb until you achieve your target. When you look at the stairs you need to climb to get to the first floor of a house, it naturally comes to you that you go step by step. You see how easy it is to reach the first floor by doing this, as each step brings you closer to this first floor.
Who hasn’t tried to climb several steps at once? Maybe three or four steps if you have long legs? Yes, you can end up falling down to where you started.
If the step-by-step of a house is a no brainer to us, the same should be in business.
Each step builds on the previous one.
By breaking down a goal into clear stages, you become more focused on what you need to do right now. Big projects become possible, because there are steps you complete and from there you can track whether the work you have been doing is on track to the following step and getting you closer to the end goal.
5- Align efforts
It is crucial to get others involved in the goal and motivate them to work together towards achieving it. Every person in an organization – no matter how big or small it is – should work together, performing activities that form part of a strategy towards achieving a goal.
When you have daily actions that are performed with a target in mind, a snowball effect occurs, giving you an advantage above everyone else. Even if you are just starting out, doing tasks that are aligned with your strategies will set you on a rapid path towards your final goal.
The problem is that many times, we get distracted with other business matters. An unexpected issue comes up and takes all your attention, or small daily events that are not connected with your final goal take away more time from you than what you had originally planned.
Beware of these matters that – in a slow but steady way – move you away from the tasks you designed to stay aligned with your business goal.
In the Chilean mine example – even with a team full of experts, who were aligned with the single purpose of bringing the miners back to the surface, working day and night to achieve this – there were setbacks.
For instance, a whole that was drilled into the ground was a few degrees off, and missed the miners. Another drill needed a lot of water in order to operate, but the rescue was being performed in the Atacama Desert -the driest in the world.
Another drill bit broke when it hit a metal bar in the mine. The broken pieces obstructed the hole and a special tube had to be built to remove these blocks.
We are all subject to roadblocks, no matter how perfect the plan is. We will have to change some plans along the way in order to achieve our goal.
Some problems can be anticipated and we can have a plan in place for when the time comes. Other setbacks will come totally unexpected, but you can work on them.
As Ryan Holiday mentions in his book The obstacle is the way: ´Doing new things invariably means obstacles. A new path is, by definition, unclear. Only with persistence and time can we cut away debris and remove impediments. Only in struggling with impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory – only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught. It´s okay to be discouraged. It´s not okay to quit.´
How can this experience be applied to your business?
What is keeping you from achieving your business goal? Which parts have you failed to implement?