7 Entrepreneurial Secrets of Survivorman

Les Stroud is Survivorman. If you don’t watch the show, you may have seen ads for it on the Discovery Channel.

Les Stroud is a documentary filmmaker and survivalist. In each episode of Survivorman, he strands himself in a remote location, away from civilization, and survives for 7 days. All the while, he documents his experience, so we can see how he survived in each of the various situations he sticks himself in. In recent episodes:

There are two reasons I watch Survivorman. Firstly, exposing oneself to new things and experiences makes one smarter. So a subject area like wilderness survival, I’d never get into that on my own. I have no interest in it. Not in the danger. Not in the desperation. Not in the challenge to survive. So this is exactly the kind of show I ought to check out, because it stretches me beyond my comfort zone, and that means I’ll discover new knowledge. (I checked out Stunt Junkies for the same reason.)

That’s enough for me to watch it once or twice, or even three times. But why do I keep watching it? What about Survivorman interests me on an ongoing basis. It isn’t the excitement of seeing Les Stroud survive in the wilderness. Rather, it’s the excitement of seeing how he survives in the wilderness. In Survivorman, I notice similarities between being a survivalist and being an entrepreneur. And many of the practices Les Stroud adopts every week serve as object lessons to anyone who wants to run his own business.

  1. Before attempting to survive in each locale, he undergoes a 4-day intensive, hands-on course under the tutelage of local natives. A recent “behind the scenes” episode showed some footage from these pre-survival outings. Yes, Les knows general survival techniques, but before he tries to survive in a new environment, he has a native expert show him specific local plants and animals that he can use for food, what specific dangers and predators to look out for, and what he can do to protect himself from them. And some of these lessons may have later saved his life. For example, in Africa, he decided not to use his hands to hunt for a certain bird, because killer snakes sometimes hide in the abandoned birds’ nests.

    The take-away: Do your homework before going into a new venture. Make sure you understand what you’ll need to provide a product or service. Make sure you have a real market for what you want to offer. And make sure you have the knowledge, skills, and motivation to compete in that market.

  2. On day one of his survival, the first thing he does is to inventory his supplies and equipment. Then he triages his options. He knows that alone he will have neither the resources nor the man-power to live comfortably. He must manage his resources. That means that the most important things get done first. And what is most important will depend on his specific situation. Is it more important to build a fire or to build a shelter? Or maybe he needs to find water first? What equipment does he have that can be re-purposed for survival? One of the rules is that he’s not allowed to use his camera equipment for survival. But he often is left with other equipment: a hot-air balloon, a broken motorcycle, a medical kit.

    The take-away: Your new venture is not an established, big company with resources to waste. You will never have enough to do everything you need to do. So pick and choose wisely.

  3. Much of what he does to survive, he’s never done before. Yes, he’s a survival expert. Yes, he’s gotten hands-on training and is well prepared. But he can’t know what he will encounter in any given wilderness moment. He needs to go with the situation. That means he needs to put into practice things he has only seen demonstrated, or only read about, but which he himself hasn’t actually done before. Why would he risk his survival on untested practices? Because sometimes it’s the best chance he has for survival.

    The take away: In your new venture, you can’t be afraid to do things you’ve never done before. Not when it gives you the best chance for success.

  4. He has a deep bag of tricks. The most important tool he has is his bag of tricks. The deeper his bag of tricks, the more likely it is he’ll be able to survive. Because from his bag of tricks is where he pulls the knowledge and techniques he uses to find food and water, build fire and shelter, and protect himself in hostile environments. He never knows what specific situation he’ll run up against, so he’s prepared for numerous contingencies. He’s ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes along.

    The take-away: Always be deepening your bag of business and marketing tricks. Because you don’t know what opportunities you will encounter that may further your business goals or help you market your product or service.

  5. Most of his traps catch nothing. Most of his hunting and gathering expeditions are hit and miss. Survival isn’t about doing one thing. It’s about about setting up as many different traps and hooking into as many different food and water sources as possible. Because some will not pay off. As long as one does, however, it’s good eatin’ tonight!

    The take-away: Don’t rely on only one marketing channel, only one product or service, only one target market. At least not if you don’t need to. Have multiple marketing efforts going at once, because some will not pay off. And as soon as you can, diversify your offerings based on your strengths, and re-purpose your product or service to related target markets.

  6. He’s willing to abandon camp, if it means the chance to move to a better locale. He did that in the Amazon, abandoned a shelter he had spent valuable time and energy constructing, in order to move to an abandoned hut. Then he abandoned that in an instant when a jaguar came snooping.

    The take-away: Don’t become personally attached to what you have worked so hard to build. Be willing to slough it off, if a better opportunity comes along.

  7. He thinks laterally and uses what he has on hand in unusual ways, in order to meet his goals. Again in Africa, he used glycerin and potassium permanganate, both from his med kit, to start a fire. The Survivorman has demonstrated more ways to start a fire than I can count. (Remember the bag of tricks?) That’s what you do when you don’t have a match. In another episode, he used hand sanitizer to catch a flame, because it has alcohol in it. That’s what you do when you have no kindling. He’s always making fishing hooks out of broken glass or aluminum cans, or small-game traps out of string, or whatever. He’s freakin’ MacGyver!

    The take-away: It’s not enough just to understand that a match produces fire, or that some business tactic produces a certain result. You have to understand why it works the way it does. And you have to be able to leverage whatever skills and resources you happen to have in order to achieve the result you want, even if you can’t do it the normal way.

There are more, too. For example, when a traditional method doesn’t work, Les does it his own way. What’s the alternative? Failure? Similarly, he’s willing to do whatever it takes, eat whatever he needs to, do the most disgusting uncouth things, if it means the difference between survival and failure. Talk about thinking outside the box! And he’s always doing something if he can. How many business owners set up shop and then sit around waiting for the business to stream in? (And it never does.)

Survivorman is currently in its second season on the Discovery Channel. New episodes air Friday night. The first season, which originally hooked me, is now available on DVD. Click here to read user reviews at Amazon and get a copy of the DVD.