Have you ever had a time when you thought you knew about something and then you discovered later that you really didn’t know as much as you thought you did?
I experienced that during my recent trip to Norway.
Of the numerous museums in Oslo, the one I wanted to visit most was the Kon Tiki Museum. This tells the remarkable story of the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his expeditions on rafts across the oceans.
As a child, I had read about the Kon Tiki and my recollection was simply that this raft had helped this guy on an incredible journey. I hadn’t taken in the details.
A walk through the museum filled the gaps in my memory and made me think how many lessons there were for life, business and marketing in Thor’s amazing story.
Thor Heyerdahl did not choose “explorer” as a career. He was fascinated by zoology and geography. He was not a sailor. He wasn’t even a great swimmer. In fact, he could barely swim and was said to be very afraid of water.
So how did someone like that come to sail a balsa-wood raft 4,948 miles in 101 days with just five other crew to support him? In 1947 at the age of 39.
It wasn’t for the adventure.
It was to test a theory.
Thor’s studies of South America and Polynesia suggested to him that there were similarities in the civilisations. Was it possible that people in the past had sailed across the Pacific and settled in a new land, bringing their culture with them?
Thor told people about his theory. It went against the popular thinking of the time.
Frustrated that his voice was not being heard, Thor decided there was only one way to “prove” his theory. He’d make the same journey and use the same transport as the settlers he believed had use to cross the Pacific.
When people heard of his plans they thought it was a mad idea. The “experts” of the day said it would end in disaster. The raft wouldn’t last the distance and the crew would probably end up drowned in the ocean.
Undeterred, Thor and his crew set off. Yes, they faced heavy storms and huge waves at times. Yes, they had a shark encounter. Yes, it was incredibly tough going and at times they feared for their lives.
But they made it.
Thor had gone against the grain. Rejected popular thinking. Stuck to his instincts. And won.
The lessons already?…
1. Have a clear goal
2. Test and keep on testing
3. Things don’t have to be perfect for you to start
4. Focus and 100 per cent commitment will take you a long way
5. Build a strong team around you
6. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel (or the raft in this case)
7. Keep talking about your message again and again
8. Do your research
9. Face your fears to overcome them
10. Plan for the expected (and the unexpected)
11. Observe what the masses do – and do the opposite
12. Qualifications on paper are not everything – attitude, spirit and bravery can count more
13. Have a clear direction (and know how to stay on course using navigation skills)
14. Be prepared to fend off sharks (or any other danger to your goal)
15. Stand firm for what you believe in (even if the so-called “experts” say you’re wrong)
So the Kon Tiki adventure was a success.
Thor had proved what was possible. It still didn’t convince everyone, of course, but it did make people sit up and think.
And that wasn’t the end of his adventures.
He made two more sailing trips, this time on raft boats made of papyrus reed, across the Atlantic. The first journey on Ra in 1969 covered around 4,000 miles before the raft broke up and the crew had to be rescued by a yacht some 100 miles short of the Caribbean Islands. The second journey from Morocco on Ra II a year later was more successful.
What I found most interesting in the museum (where the original Kon Tiki raft and Ra II boat are both on display) was the tiny details, for example in the construction of the reed rafts.
Thor wanted to follow how the Egyptians had made reed boats but papyrus was no longer found growing along the banks of the Nile. He had to import reed from Ethiopia. Nor was there anyone in Egypt who still knew how to build reed boats. Thor found a tribe by Lake Chad, deep in the African interior, who still had the traditional boat-building skills passed down through the generations.
The Norwegian adventurer was no less determined in his marketing efforts.
Yes, the Ra boat would sail from Morocco, but to get as much publicity for the project Thor had the boat built in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza. And it worked. Journalists and photographers flocked to cover the story.
I discovered so much about this one man, his life and his adventures on the high seas during my tour of this small museum on a peninsula just a 10-15 minute boat ride from Oslo’s waterfront.
And I came out with many thoughts and lessons. What do you do to get inspired?