Today’s blog post is a life-lesson about complacency that I recently learned the hard way. Straight to the story.

I currently live in Squamish, BC, Canada which is the outdoor recreation capital of Canada. The reason for such a label is we have access to mountains, rivers, lakes, an ocean, snow, ice, sunshine, and wildlife all within walking distance. This also means we have all sorts of sports in abundance, including the extreme ones such as white water rafting, down-hill mountain biking, base-jumping, paragliding, climbing, camping with the bears, and hikes that require an ice pick/hatchet and rope.

So enter this guy, a guy with two thumbs point back at me and comes from the coastal plains of Savannah, Georgia, USA. He’s a self-proclaimed YES man when it comes to invites for social gatherings, who had just said “yes” to a little float down the local Mamquam River, which passes within 200 meters (yards) of his house. The goal was for myself and four others to take a “party” raft (inclusive of cup-holders) to leisurely drift down the river from point A to point B while enjoying a beverage. My fear was primarily the colder water than I like, but we went, and guess what?  We had a great time.

Our raft also had in tow an inflatable unicorn we named Stanley. We all had some paddles and snacks, and we just drifted down the river. We occasionally paddled around an obstacle or a fast patch, and pulled over (beached) from time to time to enjoy the sun on a rocky beach along the way.  At the end of our journey, we all looked at each other, then the sun in the sky, then at each other again, and simultaneously said “let’s do it again!”.

One of our party had a friend who just pulled into town, so we invited him to join us on trip #2. We headed back to the starting point of our journey, and the now six of us hopped on the party raft (and Stanley). I don’t know how to best summarize this second trip, but here it goes.

On the first turn, New Guy flipped off of riding Stanley, with panic in his eye, lost his Ray Ban’s and bruised his feet. New Guy flipped one more time on the next turn, too. Then, Just past the half-way point, our party barge, got lodged on a tree in the water. It hit a branch sticking up that went through the center of our “O” shaped floating device, likened to a stick picking up a donut dangling us above the hungry mouth of the river, waiting to devour us. Everyone but myself (yes, this means New Guy had also gotten back in the river) and our nominated captain went overboard. I was quick-thinking enough to grab our radio and some other bags with electronics and was able to help our captain get our float free. We then took up collecting our previous passengers and their belongings, and reacquainting them with our party float.  Afterwards, my partner had ended up recuperating on Stanley with her saved cell phone.

[Enter Murphy and her Laws]

We, near immediately, proceed to hit some rapids with a lot of debris under a bridge. My partner flips off Stanley, already trying to recuperate, and spends a lot of time under water. I had grabbed her arm, which she ripped away from as she was fighting off debris under the water. She resurfaced in front of us, with fear in her eye, a sight that genuinely scared me as she always appeared fearless to me. I was ready to dive in, but hesitant to give away a safe perch to retrieve her from, so I reached out my paddle to pull her in. That got her to the float, but I had to use all my might to get her on top of the float so she could rest. From there it was “simply” a matter of retrieving more of our belongings that were floating down the river. Her cell phone was completely missing,  new guy lost a flip-flop, but we were able to retrieve our car keys and other cell phones that were tucked away in our floaty bag. We did all get safely to our destination, even if a bit shaken and wiser.

So what went wrong?  I mean we made the trip the first time, no big deal. Tried to repeat the same trip, with the same equipment, in the same conditions, and things went terribly wrong with the loss of a $1000 cell phone and nearly the loss of life. Sure, we had an added variable of new guy that was part of the equation, but I conjecture the root problem was something else.  Complacency.

You see, on that first trip, we planned. It was exciting and new and we discussed a plan with everyone while preparing and getting to the starting point, etc. We paddled hard around obstacles and through the rapids. That first trip went so well and easy, that for our second trip we did none of those things. Why bother? Been there done that. We didn’t have the same conversations with New Guy that we had had previously. We didn’t paddle as hard or respect that nature is not as forgiving in these parts. From the story above, it might be easy to cast a finger at New Guy, forgetting how much of the planning that he was not privy to.

Is the same thing true in your business?  Is this the 10th New Guy you’ve hired?  Did you put in the same effort, or more, to get them up to speed and ready for the rapids ahead?  Is this your 100th client onboarding? Are you planning just as strongly and early as you were for your first? Don’t grow complacent in your business.  This is why Continuous Improvement is one of our Core Values. We are growing or we are dying. We have to approach every challenge, no matter how repetitive, with renewed gusto and energy to ensure positive outcomes. Don’t get complacent and keep your success off the debris of the rapids!

Do you have a story you’d like to share about complacency?  We’d love to hear it in the comments!