The enormous raft curved over my right shoulder, and tipped me into the raging Nile along with all my boat mates yet again. The seat slammed against my protective helmet for the fifth time that day, causing me to nearly black out. I saw stars, barely able to hold onto my paddle. This time the boat landed on top of me, trapping me between the surging seats.
The headwaters of the Nile in Jina, Uganda are brutal. They are Class V rapids, and in places they are so dangerous that even world-class kayakers can’t paddle anywhere nearby for fear of being sucked into the depths like a hungry washing machine. That’s what it felt like where I was. Underneath the heavy yellow raft, the churning waters were just as rough as outside. I was forced under and above the water repeatedly, with nothing nearby to grab.
However, I had on a life vest. And I don’t panic. We’d already been trained on what to do if this happened. After a couple of dousings, and once my eyes cleared of the swirling stars, I captured a deep breath, shoved up the edge of the huge raft and got into the open air. Waiting for me was one of the capable Ugandan kayakers whose job it was to get me back inside the boat once it was flipped upright, which took seconds to accomplish.
Jinja, Uganda is considered the “adrenaline capital of Uganda” for good reason. There are lots of insane things to do there that engage the elevated heartbeat. The operator of this concession, to my mind, takes a huge chance by putting total beginners in the same raft as those of us who have solid rafting and paddling experience. For example, I’ve rafted some epic waters in several countries, and tend to be asked to sit left front where my strong right arm can be put to use by the the guide. Today, however, a Frenchman armed with a Go-Pro insisted on taking that spot. He spent the entire trip diddling and fiddling with his Go-Pro rather than paddle. That’s perfectly fine if you’re in Class I or Class II waters. Not fine in extremely dangerous Class V rapids where people can and do get hurt.
I suffered six concussions on that six-hour trip. I’ve never had that happen before. However, I’ve never sat across from a 21 year-old-fellow paddler who simply froze in place, death-gripped her paddle and did absolutely nothing when the guide yelled PADDLE at the top of his lungs as we entered massive rolling waters. If you are that scared of that kind of water you do not belong in the boat. Sure, there’s a safety boat downstream. Sure, capable guys in kayaks come pick you up. After you’ve had the crap beaten out of your brains by the boat and because of others’ incompetence.
It’s not unlike being out on a major highway with an otherwise responsible adult behind the wheel texting, gorming her Arby’s Pork Belly sandwich, touching up her mascara and swatting the screaming kids in the back seat all at 75 miles an hour, about to spill her red hot steaming coffee into her crotch. And here you are across the median, driving safely towards Ms. I-Don’t-Need-Driver’s-Ed at 65 miles an hour. Watching the signs, with no idea that idjit is about to cream you and cause a deadly six-car pileup. Sure, there are ambulances. Sure there are police cars and caring, thoughtful folks who come pick up the body parts and pieces after you’ve had the crap beaten out of your brains by this moron’s incompetence. And in business?
The other day I walked into my favorite chiropractor’s office and yet another staff person was gone. The manager and I had a long conversation. Part of the problem, the way she explained it, is that the new generation of Millennial workers cannot seem to focus on the job at hand. I’m not sure I agree with this assessment but that was her argument. This causes a constant turnover problem, which means that marketing can’t get done. The practice is always in turmoil, and can’t strategize for the big picture. You have to get the right folks in the boat. Or bus, as it were. Jim Collins, in his terrific book “Good to Great,” made this point sixteen years ago.
Whether causing concussions for a client in the rapids or constant, costly turnover for a small practice, the critical issue of putting the right people on the team can spell disaster or determine absolute success. I expected a spill or two on my Jinja trip. It’s part of what you sign up for when you do a rafting adventure. That’s why they call it an adventure. I did not, however, sign on to be slopped into a raft with six rank beginners and an arrogant, moronic, self-absorbed French tourist who was clearly more interested in heroic selfies than the safety of his boat mates, including, by the way, his fiancee.
Those of us looking to join a team at a new company need to ask the same question before we climb onto the bus- or the boat for that matter. Are the rest of these team members going to pull their weight? Or is there just another “safety boat” waiting downstream to pick up the pieces after yet another company crashes and burns from poor management, poor teamwork, poor hiring practices?
Adventure travel has taught me a lot about business practices. Bad guides put tourists and travelers at risk the same way poor managers risk profits with poor hiring decisions. As a result, I’ve learned to pass on adventure opportunities when it’s clear that I’m likely to be the only experienced person on the tour. That kind of thoughtful consideration bodes well for job choices too- as more than a few high quality NFL quarterbacks on lousy teams have found out. Pick your team wisely.