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Below is an article I wrote that was recently published on Forbes

"Award-winning author Laurence Gonzales wrote a fascinating book called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. Using engaging storytelling, he combines a mix of science and art to shed light on who survives in the wilderness (or through other severe life challenges) and why.

Some of the science shared reveals that “those who study accidents in outdoor recreation have begun to realize that all accidents are alike in fundamental ways. What we call ‘accidents’ do not just happen. There is not some vector of pain that causes them. People have to assemble the systems that make them happen.”

Referencing Charles Perrow’s work on accidents, Gonzales goes on to state that “system accidents are made up of conditions, judgments, and acts or events that would be inconsequential by themselves. Unless they are coupled in just the right way and with the right timing, they pass unnoticed.” Most telling, however, is the conclusion “that in certain systems, large accidents, though rare, are both inevitable and normal.”

There are powerful parallels between the wilderness and the workplace. For one, accidents happen.

In a previous blog post, “Great Business Owners and Leaders Have the ‘I’ of the Tiger,” I shared characteristics of those who can survive in the small business space. I also share these two staggering stats:

• According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one in 12 businesses closes every year. 

• Fundera states that only 50% of small businesses with employees will survive their fifth year.

Many businesses experience significant sales struggles. Beyond that, some suffer more severe sales revenue and retention setbacks. And fatal business accidents happen all too often. But it doesn't have to be that way — you can avoid them.

In my experience, there are two telling traits that surviving owners and leaders in small- to medium-sized businesses possess:

1. They skillfully and successfully navigate the lethal business landscape.

They do so by experimenting and evolving. In her book Imagine It Forward, Beth Comstock writes, “People who effect radical change have to exhibit an uncompromising faith in experimentation, a bias for novelty and action, and a sense that disruption is something you cause, not observe.” She would say that they “question the accepted approach, encourage diverse ideas, push people out of their comfort zones, and create a sense of urgency around producing something new and better.”

They are quick studies of why something does or doesn’t work. Struggles? No problem. Capture the business intelligence and charge the hill again. Setbacks become stepping-stones for future successes. Persistence and perseverance are pillars of their process. As John Maxwell would say, they “fail forward.”


They understand the power and practicality of Mike Tyson’s famous statement that “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In some ways, they prepare for the reality that failure, in fact, might be a direct result of the systems and processes that they themselves have put in place. They take accountability for basic and brutal business accidents so as to avoid future and fatal ones. Pivoting is not an isolated practice. It is the routine they practice regularly. They understand that being stationary does not lead to stability. Navigating is the norm that leads to survival.

2. They are constantly looking to dominate the business landscape.

They don't sleep on their success — they scale it! They never waste a win. Their mindset revolves not around addition, but rather multiplication. They’re looking for new platforms to place their products and services that are selling successfully. They figuratively never sleep, and they’re never satisfied. How many more sales do they need? One more.

Great business owners and leaders are determined to drive toward what works and discard what doesn’t work. Well-known American game programmer John Carmack is often credited with saying, “focus is a matter of deciding what you’re not going to do.” Psychologist William James stated, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.” They are not easily distracted. Their undivided attention is given to dominating. Competing is not a cliché. It’s a constant. They may waver, but they maintain the will to win.

Two ways that they push through problems (that plague others):

• They manage their mental state. They understand business survival is both logical and psychological. They tune out the negative noise. They surround themselves with other successful people. Their day often begins with meditation and physical exercise. This preparation is part of their survival strategy.

• They are goal and growth-oriented. Goals are written down and worked diligently. They plan their work and work their plan. Scorecards and dashboards are staples and daily drivers. They advance the agenda, move the needle, think forward and push harder day in and day out. Getting to their goals is their ticket to not only surviving but thriving.

In business, who lives, who dies and why is summarized not by the absence of accidents (i.e., failures) but rather by avoiding them and setting up successful systems and structures to survive."

Dan Whitfield

Written by Dan Whitfield

Dan is dedicated to "coaching up" leaders of growth-oriented non-profits and cause-driven organizations. His goal is to help you gain and retain new donors.