Saturday, July 26, 2008

Deep Survival

Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why
Author: Laurence Gonzales
W.W. Norton & Company, 2004
318 pages

Back in mid-June, I was attending one of those work things where they bring in a Suit to motivate the masses.  Our Suit wasn't really a Suit but more like Business Casual. He mentioned this book, and how it's one of the best business books he's ever read, even though technically it's not a "business" book, and how much he'd taken away from reading it.

If I hear anyone say the words "best book", I pay attention.  A few days after the work thing, I went to my local B&N to look for it, and found it in the "Science and Nature" section. I started reading it on the flight back to Europe, and found that I couldn't put it down. It was more interesting to me than sleeping (which I should have been doing on the overnight flight to reduce the jet lag.)

Gonzales has an amazing ability to weave a tale, inserting just the right amount of research, dialogue, and action. The slightly biographic element - his father's amazing World War II story - adds a nice personal touch and provides insight into the author himself. After all, if his father hadn't been through those experiences, perhaps Gonzales would not have become the adventurer and writer he is. The other stories about survival - or not - of fighter pilots, mountain climbers, hikers, sailors, and others will have you biting your nails. And the other stuff - the psychology, the history, the science - contributes to this "best book."

I took notes in the book as I was reading it, and when I was finished, I typed up a summary. Here are some of the points in the book that rang true for me. As you read through these, think of the business implications for each:

* When you think you know everything, you close yourself off to learning other stuff. This attitude can cause you to miss out on something important.

* Regarding chaos theory - yes, a certain amount of chaos in business is good, because it forces people to work harder and become more creative. But there can also be too much chaos, and this isn't good because it makes people (and the system) break down - and then nothing gets done. People can only deal with so much change at once. (Do you hear that, Suits?!)

* There are times when you need to question the rules and even break the rules. Many people who die in accidents die because they followed the rules. So, if you're in a building that's on fire, don't wait for "Security" to tell you to get out. Just get out.

* You're only lost when you believe you are lost. And when you believe you are lost, you will either: 1) find yourself, or 2) die.

* The best way to ensure your own survival is to help someone else. This takes you out of the victim mindset, which helps you rise above your fears. You start to see yourself (and others start to see you) as a Rescuer instead of someone who needs rescuing.

* To be able to survive in the world, you have to get out there and experience it.

* Versatility is one of the characteristics of survivors. You have to be able to perceive what's really happening and then adapt to it.

* A sense of humor is another characteristic of survivors. If you can't find the humor in a situation (no matter how morbid), you might as well give it up.

I really got a lot out of this book personally, and I think you will, too.  Maybe as you read it you'll recognize survivor characteristics in yourself. Or maybe you'll learn some new strategies to help you next time you're in a situation. It won't be a waste of your time. 

My rating = 4.25 out of 5.