Lessons learnt from the oceanPublished on 29 Sep 2020
Risk, teamwork and challenges - what extreme swimming has taught me, Jean Craven
Jean Craven is CEO of Barak Fund Management and founder of Madswimmer.com, a charity that has raised more than USD900k for children’s homes and orphanages since it started in 2009. His first swim, across the Strait of Gibraltar, was the result of a hare-brained dare between friends.
Since then, he has become the first person ever to complete all six inter-continental swims. Along the way, he has learned many valuable lessons, which he shared with guests at a recent Stonehage Fleming webinar.
Don’t avoid risk, manage it. Crossing oceans comes with a high level of risk. You need to do your research and prepare well, planning around tides, the animals and weather you are likely to encounter and the best times to swim. The same is true of business: you achieve success by being prepared and understanding risk – not avoiding it altogether.
Surround yourself with a good team. When we were in Chile attempting to break a Guinness World Record for the highest altitude swim, we knew things could go wrong. We had no idea what 6400m altitude combined with icy cold water would do to our bodies, or how to break through the ice that suddenly covered the lake that we needed to swim. Having a good team with you in a situation like this is vital for problem solving and helping you to manage risks.
Be prepared to change tack. Most of our swims require a big team and many resources to make them a reality. We prepare for months and spend a lot of time on site to ensure that the team acclimatises before the swim. So when we discovered the lake was frozen, turning back simply wasn’t an option. Chainsaws, it turned out, do not work at that altitude… Fortunately, we had heard of another lake at 6000m – high enough to beat the record – so we had to change our plans at short notice. Being agile enough to change course when required is a lesson I have taken into business too.
Break a project into small chunks. Sometimes looking at a challenging swim, you just can’t see how to get to the end of it. An 11-hour swim across the English Channel at night with no team is a case in point – it is so daunting you want to give up just thinking about it. However, by not looking too far ahead at a time, focusing on the next 15 minutes only, it becomes manageable. In my experience, the same can be said of business projects. If you break them into smaller, manageable chunks, the task ahead becomes far less intimidating.
Get out of your comfort zone. I don’t like cold water; I’d rather swim long distances than in sub-zero temperatures. Swimming in Antarctica ripped me out of my comfort zone completely. You can’t speak for about 30 minutes after the swim as all your blood moves to your core and the rest of your body can’t function normally. It taught me that mental strength is sometimes more important than physical strength. Both of these lessons are key to running a successful business: keep growing and keep pushing the boundaries.