Four things entrepreneurs, startup founders and managers can learn from Thor Heyerdahl
Twenty years ago today, one of the most important explorers, discoverers and adventurers of the 20th century died: Thor Heyerdahl. As an entrepreneur, startup founder, manager, you can learn a lot from this courageous, sometimes headstrong adventurer.
Heyerdahl became world famous in 1947 for a daring experiment: together with five companions with little nautical experience, he managed to sail some 6,980 kilometers from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days on a homemade balsa wood raft called the ‘Kon-Tiki’. In doing so, he substantiated his thesis that Polynesia had already been settled from the east, namely from South America, about 1,500 years ago.
What makes Heyerdahl special?
1. Unique, unpopular, unshakable: his vision
Heyerdahl held steadfastly to his vision, taking a decade to shape it into a concrete project, finally realizing it – at the cost of his life and five others. Previously, countless researchers and scientists dismissed his hypothesis as crackpotry. The National Geographic Society refused to support his raft project, calling it ‘suicidal’. Heyerdahl proved an extremely tenacious perseverance, even severe financial problems over many years could not stop him.
2. Navigate through the unknown
When Heyerdahl and his five companions set sail in their raft from Callao, Peru, on April 28, 1947, they had no idea exactly where they were headed. There was only a direction. Everything else was unknown. That takes a lot of faith. In themselves, the crew, the equipment and finally in the ‘rest’: the great unknown – the common denominator of all adventures. It was the unknown and its courageous accomplishment that made this voyage a globally admired and unique adventure. Heyerdahl did not sell 50 million books because he pondered migration theories at his desk at home, but because he put everything into his idea: Will, knowledge, diligence, persuasion, money and even his life. On the raft trip, the Heyerdahl team had to deal with sharks, storms, a lack of drinking water and balsa strains that were getting full. This demanded everything of them physically and mentally.
3. Question the existing. Look beyond the horizon.
Heyerdahl did not see the seas as obstacles to be overcome. For him, they were paths, connections on which people sailed to Polynesia 1,500 years ago. For Heyerdahl, forces are at work in the sea that do not oppose anything, but above all inspire, drive and strengthen. Perhaps even a raft? With that, he alone saw something that probably no one else saw but him. Or did not want to, could not, were not allowed to. And if you already think something new, then you can also think big and far, to beyond the horizon. With a raft across the Pacific? Why not? That’s what makes a pioneer, an explorer: foresight.
4. Overcoming fear
As a child, Heyerdahl fell into icy water in winter and nearly drowned yet another time. His fear was so strong that he refused to learn to swim as a teenager. Later, as an adult in Tahiti, he fell into a raging river and had to fight for his life. All of this should be more than enough material for a tangible trauma. Nevertheless, Heyerdahl boarded his raft and for months was surrounded to the horizon by his number one fear trigger: water! Now that’s something to think about! I don’t think this achievement by Heyerdahl has been sufficiently appreciated.
For Hafdan Tangen of the Oslo Kon-Tiki Museum, Heyerdahl was the first Norwegian hippie. In the history of seafaring, the Kon-Tiki expedition is one of the most remarkable achievements. And Heyerdahl’s core message to all people with ambitions is: Trust yourself!
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