147: 5 Business Lessons From a River at Flood Stage
My regular clients can tell you that the weather has affected my office hours a few times this year. It happened again last Wednesday. I got a morning text message from one of my kayaking buddies. He was getting off work at 4 o’clock and wanted to know if I wanted to take the risk with him to drive up into the mountains and see if the Tye River was “runnable.”
Our area had received a lot of rain over a three-day span, and it was finally starting to affect the river gauges downstream of where we like to run. It would take scouting our preferred section in-person to know the practical volume of the water. We wouldn’t know until we got next to the river whether or not the flow was within or above my current abilities. That section of river is out of cell phone range and almost an hour’s drive from my house.
It was a risk I was willing to take.
I hurried to shovel all of the urgent design off my desk in time to mount the kayak on the car, assemble all my cold weather gear, and meet Johnny at the rendezvous.
As I neared the takeout parking area, the river criss-crossed beneath the bridges of the two-lane road. Though rain was pelting my windshield, I could see clearly that the river was very high and moving fast. It seemed to have risen enough to cover most of the rocks. I wondered if that would make it safer or more dangerous than the levels I had attempted in the past—levels which required the most technical paddling I’ve done in a kayak to date.
The short answer: more dangerous. While the volume did create bigger cushions for obstacles, it made the river too fast to make any mistakes. You had to make the right reads and then the right moves with split-second, instinctive decisions. Come out of your boat once, and you might never see it (or your paddle) again.
That was a risk I was willing to take.
If another kayaker tried to chase my abandoned kayak, though, it could put his safety and equipment at risk. That wasn’t something I wanted. So, wisdom prevailed. I volunteered to shuttle the experienced kayakers, so they could paddle the run a couple times. I stopped Johnny’s truck at points where the river neared the road to capture video of their fun and got to see them play limbo under the Route 56 bridge. They finished their second run in the foggy darkness that follows dusk. Johnny said, “If it weren’t for the actual whitewater, we wouldn’t have known where to paddle.”
Because of their expertise, they got to experience an adrenaline-fueled accomplishment.
On the drive home alone, I reflected on the evening. I wanted a lesson to take with me, since I didn’t get to add this grand adventure to my life story.
I thought about the times in life where I had bitten off more than I could chew. Most of those came with regret. Underserved or offended clients I’ll never win back. Personal relationships that have withered. Tens of thousands of dollars lost from mistakes. Embarrassing race results. Debates I wasn’t ready to engage.
Then, I started thinking about the auction industry I serve. I don’t have enough fingers to count the times a client has tried a project I’ve wondered if they should’ve declined. Those are the times when I get this phone call or email: “Hey, I’ve got this auction. I’ve never sold one of these before. How would you market it?” They’re hoping I’ve helped another auction company sell something similar.
When I suggest partnering with a reputable company that specializes in their conundrum, I’ve yet to hear, “That’s a great idea.” There’s a rampant belief that bid callers can sell anything, that an auction is a universal panacea. Auction marketers who know the idiosyncrasies of one or several asset categories assume they can keep adding more.
Never mind that the more areas in which someone claims to specialize, the less specialization they can actually claim. There’s a large chance—especially with absolute auctions—to seriously damage someone’s financial situation or to waste weeks of work on a no sale.
Sometimes, it’s not a new asset class or geographic area that proves to be the big stretch. It could be the seller situation, the legal hoops, unfavorable public perception, or something else. You know what it is when you see it, just like I knew that the Tye River’s flood waters were out of my league.
We can still try to learn and grow and chase adventures or accomplishment. We just need to do so wisely.
1. Learn alongside people with more experience.
Swallow your pride. Trust a worthy guide. Share your commission instead of settling for a small one or losing it altogether.
2. Let someone else risk their boat.
If your competition wants to carry the stress and worry and hassle, that means they aren’t working on the easier deals you can take.
3. Choose incremental stretches.
Graduate one grade at a time. Enjoy each level of improvement and gained skills. Remember that those child prodigies attending Ivy League universities typically don’t have great dating, sports, or extracurricular lives.
4. Gain trust through your unselfishness.
Refer clients to their best option, and they’ll remember you for sacrificial candor. That rarely goes unrewarded.
5. Understand that wisdom often hides within restraint.
Sometimes, the braver choice is the one to walk away. At times, it’s better to learn lessons from someone else’s mistakes—and even their successes—than to experience them first-hand. I’ve regretted far more projects I’ve taken than those I didn’t.
Someday, I’ll be able to successfully market more asset categories well than I do now. Someday, I’ll run class IV or V rapids in my creek boat. When those days finally arrive, though, I want to experience them with fewer regrets. Something tells me I won’t regret passing on running the Tye River at flood stage last Wednesday—or the professional equivalents that seduce me just as much.