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What “Gone Fishing” has taught me this year

If you were to ask me at the beginning of the year what I see myself doing in 2016, then not in a million years I would have told you I would have “gone fishing” in Israel. Of course life is never predictable, and naturally this year I spent 120 days on an Israeli fishing boat pulling up nets and throwing fish into tubs. So, what have I learnt from my experience “Gone Fishing” that could be applied to our modern working life?

Teamwork

Everyone literally needs to pull their weight on the boat. Working on a commercial fishing boat is hard work, just like our desk jobs, except there is no place to hide. I worked with two lots of teams during my time on the boat. The first lot, we worked together through the toughest conditions (40C heat with 80% humidity). We worked hard on the job and helped each other out, and when we have spare moments, we also played hard together. Work does not feel like work most of the time even though we worked 12 -14 hours in most days. The second lot, one of the team members loathed his job. He is strong (technically superior in the office context) but had to be dragged to the boat every day. He did just enough not to get thrown off the boat (sacked from the job). The team morale was visibly burdened by his demotivation; those days were long even though I only worked the normal 8 hours and the weather became cooler.

When we work in the most primary manner, the importance of a team becomes ever so eminent. It is better to let that person go and do what s/he is good at, rather than dragging the team down. I firmly believe in hiring slow, firing fast. That team member was eventually assigned to the gardening team and he thrived from cutting plants. We, individuals and companies, need to find what we are good at and make hard decisions of letting go in order for both sides to succeed.

Never give up

Fishing is very physically demanding work; many times I wanted to give up pulling up the damn net.

The captain (i.e. my boss), who is an ex-marine officer fought in the Lebanese war, kept telling me one motto: “Never give up.” It is this motto that got me through the 20-hour work days during Passover, got me through the extremely hot days, got me through feeling out of place among successful Israeli entrepreneurs / VCs.

I remembered a morning I had to take a 5.30am bus in order to arrive in Tel Aviv by 9 am for an Israel-China Investment Summit. Waiting at the bus stop in the dark, I asked myself: “Why do I chase this? I feel scared; I know nobody in the high-tech sector in Israel and everything is new to me.” Never give up! I went anyway. By the time I left Israel, I have developed dozens of contacts of VCs and entrepreneurs, plus a good understanding of the ecosystem and Israeli leading technology landscapes. If I had given up at the bus stop to stick with what I felt comfortable, I would have missed out on so many opportunities to build relationships for trade and investment between Israel, Australia and China.

How to minimise making mistakes

Mistakes occur just as often when we’re going about our everyday business. As someone who has grown up being sugar-coated, I made lots of mistakes when I was working with my hands on the boat. From tangling up the net to almost getting dragged under the boat, I eventually improved by developing my awareness around my situations.

We all feel edgy when doing something out of the norm. The captain made us familiarise ourselves with every piece equipment on the boat to minimise mistakes. He emphasised: “I would rather you work slowly and get things right to keep everyone safe.”

In our work life, being aware of what is happening within the company as well as the market situation can help minimising making mistakes. When our spatial and sensory awareness is turned on, we may even save lives (or companies).

Keep an open mind

Things will take their own course. In the Galilee, the wind comes whenever it decides to. As fishermen, when we did not catch enough fish for the day (our KPIs) and the wind was pressing upon us, we had to keep an open mind and believe that the fish will still be here tomorrow when we cast the net. In life, there are many things that we cannot control. Keeping an open mind, combined with the motto of “never give up”, will definitely help to set us on the track of success.

Well, hope my insights as a fisherwoman have sparked you. To all my business, VCs and Startup community friends, have a Merry Christmas season and a fantastic New Year. May we chart our own course and see where we will end up in 2017.