Today’s business landscape cannot be easy to navigate. With rising inflation, worsening geopolitical tensions, and a looming global recession, running a company can seem like a constant uphill climb. During these times of uncertainty, one’s mindset can mean the difference between success and its alternative.
Rob Lilwall, world-class keynote speaker and global adventurer, explored these ideas as he talked about his once-in-a-lifetime journey across the Taklamakan Desert. Alone, he ventured into what locals call “the desert of death” – a 1000 km march across an arid landscape filled with sand dunes and not much else.
His story is one riddled with challenges, failures, resignations, and ultimate success. Most importantly, Lilwall proved how the right mindset can get you across the harshest of landscapes.
Unexpected obstacles present unexpected opportunities.
Companies today are not strangers to obstacles. In this interconnected world, economic shifts are never isolated to one region, let alone one country. As a global recession creeps its way closer, businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to justify taking risks, which ultimately slows down growth. Some may even say it is impossible to make a business thrive against such a backdrop.
This is similar to the first major challenge Lilwall encountered in his journey – a seemingly impassable river. With a combination of hard work, trial and error, and ingenuity, Lilwall was able to get all his gear across, after 12 crossings.
According to Lilwall, “it’s very natural … for our first reaction … to say, ‘this is impossible.’” He said it is alright to feel this way when suddenly faced with a considerable challenge. However, he quickly added that in the following moment, one should realize that “it’s got to be possible … There’s got to be a solution to this.”
Lilwall explained that this simple mindset shift unlocks creative problem-solving. He added that these huge, unexpected obstacles can even often present unique, huge, unexpected opportunities.
Companies dreading the idea of a recession, for example, can view it as a chance to grow instead. While other businesses are more risk-averse, growing can mean less competition in marketing, sales, and even talent acquisition. This is possible if companies are willing to put in the work.
Overworking is often counterproductive.
Working hard, however, is entirely different from overworking.
With the current pace of the business world, it can be tempting to floor the accelerator and just keep going. But the rise of opposing trends like hustle culture and quiet quitting make it obvious that overworking is not as productive as it initially appears. There is an inevitable point of diminishing returns when long hours backfire and cost companies productivity.
Lilwall discussed this risk as he described his long trek across countless sand dunes. He eventually reached a point where he could no longer move forward. As symptoms of heat stroke manifested, he reevaluated his strategy to “just keep going.”
“We all face the same challenge of exhaustion,” said Lilwall. And while he agrees that “success requires very hard work,” he added that pushing oneself or one’s team too hard can lead to burnout, which will also lead to bad decisions.
Lilwall eventually found an easier path across the dunes and made it safely across, letting himself take more breaks along the way.
Companies can learn from Lilwall’s example by putting their employees’ wellbeing front and center. In fact, this is already an ongoing trend across APAC. Employers who incorporate flexibility as part of their culture promote happier and better performing employees.
Tasks are less overwhelming when focusing on the next right thing.
Measuring progression is an essential part of running a company. It is often a metric associated with reaching targets and objectives, which also inform whether a company is succeeding or failing. However, there can be times when progression cannot be readily measured, when goals seem out of reach, when every effort seems pointless.
Amid the vastness of the Taklamakan, Lilwall encountered this same overwhelming feeling. Despite his weeks of travel, he realized that he still had what seemed like an eternity to trek. “I just felt … I’m never going to make it. I was moving too slowly. I felt overwhelmed.” Lilwall described his resignation as a response to the scale of the task in front of him.
Since he was not able to fully shake off the feeling, Lilwall instead just kept focusing on taking the next ten steps. “It’s great to set ourselves huge goals, but we can’t control everything.”
It can be easy to fall into the trap of negativity when faced with an enormous task or a difficult target, especially if progress is not readily apparent. Breaking down these massive tasks into smaller, more accessible ones and celebrating micro achievements can open a way forward.
Companies that recognize small wins can improve employee morale and overall productivity.
Crossing the desert requires a resilient mind.
Despite all the planning, the hard work, and the positivity, failures can happen. It is during these times that resilience is tested the most.
Lilwall almost gave up on his journey after encountering what felt like an unsolvable problem. He said, however, that one should “never quit on a bad day.” He explained that when emotions are low, people are not likely to make good decisions. Instead, he rested and the next day, he decided to push on.
Risks are as much a part of business as its rewards. Companies will inevitably encounter several seemingly impossible challenges before they see any measure of success. And when all else fails, a resilient mindset can be one’s last line of defense and one’s best refuge. Sometimes, that is everything.
When Lilwall finally crossed the desert, he rightly exclaimed his relief, joy, and achievement.
According to Lilwall, “It’s not about the destination and it’s not about the journey. It is about the person you become on the way.”
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