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The 5 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Learn From the Dramatic Thai Cave Rescue

The 18-day long effort to rescue 12 young soccer players and their coach showcases important lessons for all entrepreneurs.

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BY Alisa Cohn - 12 Jul 2018

The 5 Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Learn From the Dramatic Thai Cave Rescue

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

For eighteen days, we all watched the unfolding attempts to rescue the "Wild Boar" soccer team out of that cave in Thailand. Now that we're basking in the happy ending--all the kids and their coach got out--I've been reflecting that the mission to save them holds lessons for us as entrepreneurs.

In many ways, this rescue was a lesson in key principles for a startup. There was a problem that had to get solved, and the people involved had to work together to quickly invent ways to solve it. It took dozens of divers and hundreds of volunteers from over thirty countries to make it happen.

What are the elements that brought people together around this cause, and what can entrepreneurs learn from this mission to help drive their business and teams forward? Start with these five lessons:

1. Orient around purpose.

The kids were stranded in the cave. If nothing was done they would starve or run out of oxygen. The purpose of this mission was unmistakable.

A company's purpose lays out its reason for being. It connects employees and customers to a mission above and beyond the mechanics of the business. Purpose-driven environments galvanize teams. A clear and inspiring purpose drives more employee engagement, creativity and discretionary effort.

And purpose leads to profit: Companies with a clear and higher purpose distinguish themselves from their competitors. Ultimately, these companies do better financially over the long term.

What you should do: Take a step back and define your "why." How do you want to make a positive impact? What's your company doing to drive that positive impact? This can sometimes feel abstract. Get your colleagues involved. How do they perceive the higher purpose of your company?

2. Ensure clear goals.

The goal of this mission was clear: Get all of the kids and the coach out of the cave. There was no ambiguity. The standard by which success was measured wasn't in question.

Goals align teams. Setting clear goals helps people focus and prioritize their work.

What you should do: With startups, the goals aren't always clear. Don't berate yourself when you're not 100 percent sure. Ask yourself and your team: What does "done" look like? That'll bring clarity and structure.

3. Create sense of urgency.

The time constraints led to a sense of urgency. Oxygen was running short. Any number of natural disasters, including the likelihood of more rain flooding the area the kids were sheltering in. There was no time to waste.

A sense of urgency puts speed and weight behind people's actions. When you don't have sense of urgency you sometimes see your team have a lackadaisical about bringing a project to closure. A sense of urgency electrifies the team and gets everyone working with intention and energy.

What you should do: Specific timelines drive a sense of urgency. Make sure your projects have a concrete schedule and that everybody knows about it.

4. Make tradeoffs.

Throughout the mission, the rescuers had to make tradeoffs. They had to balance the need to move quickly to get the boys out and the expectation to maintain adequate safety standards. They had to balance their life-saving equipment with the need to adapt to small spaces and dynamics conditions.

All businesses have to make tradeoffs all the time. Company-building is about series of decisions you have to make with imperfect information and not enough time or money. Sometimes, rather than choosing the best option, you have to choose the least bad option.

What you can do: Accept that tradeoffs are always necessary. Consistent processes versus a one-off need to please a customer. Speed versus quality. Pick the most important thing to emphasize. That will help you structure the tradeoffs you need to make.

5. Use people's talents.

Hundreds of volunteers contributed to the rescue effort. Divers rescued the boys in the caves. Leaders and politicians coordinated the efforts and communicated with the world and families. A group of volunteers from the south--known for their skill in climbing mountains to gather bird's nests for bird's nest soup--came to view the jungle from above to see if they could find a shaft that might be used the pull the boys out.

Everyone found a role to play that coordinated with their unique talents.

Companies are most successful when they find people's unique skills and talents and put them in position them to use those gifts. One of the best things you can do is create an environment where employees are able to optimize their time and skill-set.

What you can do: Find out what your employees are best at, and find ways to make sure they can contribute using those skills. Make that a mandate for all of your managers and watch how the employees in your company come to life.

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