Walid El-Khoury

Your business is a walk in the park

Walid El-Khoury /

Last week, I had the privilege to participate in the Oxfam 100km Trailwalker 2012, a gruelling global fundraising event against poverty and injustice.

 

It was a great event, and I could not let this opportunity pass without drawing some business “lessons learnt”.

 

I will elaborate on each of these in future blogs:

 

Planning Fallacy

 

The statistics are that about half of the four-member Oxfam teams would have at least one team member retiring before the finish.

 

The 2012 statistics are no different, as 55% of teams were incomplete at the finish line. But none of us believed this statistic would apply to us.

 

For our team, yours truly was the last man standing (barely) after 34.5 hours, 10 hours later than our expected time.

 

Lesson 1: The term “Planning Fallacy” was coined by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman.

 

Humans seem to ignore external and objective evidence relevant to any activity or business they undertake. For example, two out of three marriages end in divorce, but almost all couples believe they will marry forever.

 

Also 80% of businesses end within five years, yet no entrepreneur believes they are part of these statistics. There are ways to learn from other people’s mistakes. I will address this topic in future posts.

 

Hiccups galore

 

Thanks to our planning delusion, we were about eight hours late to arrive at an important checkpoint where we planned to pick up our night gear on time from our support crew.

 

This was due to small delays caused by a slower walking pace on very difficult terrains, longer resting times to attend to injuries, etc. So we walked about three hours without any adequate lighting, relying on moonlight, other teams, and one headlight.

 

One team member almost slipped down a cliff and another had a serious knee injury, slowing us down to a snail pace. And it was getting really cold, all increasing the risk of hypothermia.

 

Lesson 2: Don’t judge minimal delays or hiccups as insignificant. If not attended to, or accounted for, as they happen, they can wreak havoc. See also the blog on the related topic: We can be blind to the obvious.

 

Perspective is everything

 

The last 10km, I was shuffling in total agony. Then I came across an Oxfam guide who said to me “You have 5km to go, almost there!” I thought if I did 95km, I could easily bear another 5km.

 

But soon after, I read a sign to the same effect that says “You are half way there!” meaning I had another 5km, of course. But this sentence triggered a different reaction in me.

 

My mind immediately started to recall the very last 5km, which were truly painful. Can I cope with another 5km of even more pain?

 

The thought seemed to stop me in my tracks.

 

Lesson 3: There is absolutely nothing rational about these two different reactions to what is essentially the same thing. But it is a fact that our choices can be clearly manipulated with very simple priming.

 

Think 90% fat-free versus 10% fat or cash discounts versus credit surcharge. I will cover these issues in more detail in future posts.

 

I take this opportunity to thank Oxfam Australia for allowing us and our supporters to contribute to such a great cause. I also sincerely invite you to support them in any way you can.

 

The donation to my team will also remain open until October 2012.

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