What the Desert Taught Me About Survival

Joshua Tree National Park offers a glimpse into life on another planet. It's a hot, demanding place that forces you to slow down and evaluate your human survival skills. On a recent weekend visit, I also realized these same skills are ones that all entrepreneurs and small business owners need to survive.

Joshua Tree National Park offers a glimpse into life on another planet. This sprawling terrain is teeming with angular rocks tossed into haphazard piles from the earth’s deeper layers, Joshua trees leaning like fuzzy aliens into the dusty wind, and sere plants whose scruffy appearance belies an enviable toughness.

It’s a hot, demanding place that forces you to slow down. It demands skills that I, on a recent weekend visit, realized are those that all entrepreneurs need to survive:

Adaptability. Plants and creatures of the desert have evolved to minimize waste and maximize effort in response to the demands of the environment. Every year in the desert is a recession.

Hardiness. Talk about survival of the fittest! The flora and fauna are lean (no obesity in the desert), mean (think of all those thorns) and resource-wise.

Perseverance. Fire, wind and snow have attempted to destroy or carve away the landscape, and yet -- in some small part thanks to man’s intervention through the National Park system -- it will persist well beyond our lifetimes. Similarly, a well-crafted, well-tended business can outlive its founders.

Patience. Seeds that lie dormant for years before flowering with adequate rain, succulents that suck up huge quantities of water to keep in reserve for dry spells, and lizards that remain motionless waiting for a fly to pass by -- all exhibit a profound willingness to stick it out, while waiting for circumstances to favor their odds.

Surprise. If the desert were only dreary and rugged and monotonous, it would fail to attract. It’s that element of the unexpected that keeps drawing us back. A vista of craggy rocks and cacti, topped by a snowy peak in the distance; a colorful spring blooming; a new-found, native American artifact; even a flash flood.

What are your best techniques for survival? In what ways does your business or practice need to adapt … or die? Please share your comments, suggestions and advice below!