One of my favorite books is The Lion Tracker’s Guide To Life. I found myself resonating with the life lessons and personal philosophy of the author, Boyd Varty, and drawing many parallels to the mindset needed to be successful in entrepreneurial endeavors.
Varty grew up in the African bush, and learned the ancient art of tracking while apprenticing under a renowned tracker from the Shangaan tribe. Later in life, Varty carried over these lessons to his work as a high performance coach. What follows are four key attributes of what I call “the lion tracker mentality”.
#1 Trust Your Instincts
Lion tracking is rich in metaphor. The very essence of tracking is to follow a trail few others can see, or are even aware of. As such, lion trackers must learn to rely on instinct to guide them. Trackers can’t be successful without deep self conviction; trust that skill and instinct will ultimately guide them to their desired destination.
Starting is always a challenge. What track (often there are many) is the right one to follow? A tracker learns that only when they are fully present with open senses, will the first track become apparent. Like an investor who who spots an opportunity early, or a founder who discovers a secret, trackers find the path by having a prepared mind, honed over years of putting in the reps. A tracker only learns by doing.
#2 Embrace the Adventure
“I don’t know where I’m going, but I know exactly how to get there.”
Once the first track is chosen, trackers let their initial hunch lead them into the unknown. The best trackers learn to detect subtle signs and patterns that lead them from track to track. A tracker’s sixth sense for spotting tracks and navigating tricky trails is developed via cycles of trial and error.
The African bush is a dangerous place. Death lurks in the shadows and wrong turns can spell disaster. Nevertheless, lion trackers learn to navigate with certainty. Trackers also lean into fear. Despite operating in adverse conditions and in unknown terrain, trackers learn to be systematic in their navigation of the trail. They realize fear is their friend. Only by leaning into fear and discomfort is a tracker fully able to navigate at full potential.
Along the lines of leaning into fear, I love this video clip of professor George Weaver and what it takes to live an ‘asymmetric life’:
#3 Lean Into Fear
Trackers are under near constant stress. They operate in difficult terrain relying on clues that can are difficult to interpret. Mistakes are frequently made, but trackers know it’s to be expected. What’s important is not whether mistakes will be made (they will!), but rather how the tracker reacts when the inevitable occurs.
Trackers learn to see adversity as a gift. The best are able to keep their cool under pressure. Even when challenged with a crisis (lack or water, snake bites, etc), the lion tracker mentality is characterized by an ability to maintain a positive mindset, adapt, adjust, and re-find the trail. Only by operating with an antifragile mindset does a tracker ultimately find the lion.
Sequoia Capital has a great articulation of this same philosophy, what they call ‘crucible moments’. What Sequoia has observed is challenging times are often when the best founders step up and separate themselves from the rest. These superior founders see inflection points as opportunities to show their mettle, make hard trade offs, and seize opportunity.
Explanation of Crucible Moments (Start: 9:31)
#4 Honor Your Wild Self
To honor your wild self is to allow yourself the freedom to be who you really are. The best trackers have unique strengths (superpowers) they lean into in order to accomplish their mission.
However, these superpowers (or spikes) can sometimes be a double edged sword. The best trackers may not be the most friendly, or most entertaining. Trackers learn that survival and success comes from operating independently, and being relentless in pursuit of the final destination. Embracing your unique strengths and opinions - the courage to be disliked - echoes the principles highlighted by Keith Rabois regarding "spikey" founders. Such founders, with pronounced strengths and unique viewpoints, may not always blend smoothly. Yet, it's the readiness to stand apart, and embrace dissent, that can lead to groundbreaking innovations.
Anyone who has embarked on an entrepreneurial journey stands to learn from the ancient art of lion tracking. I highly encourage both founders and investors to pick up a copy and enjoy the wisdom shared within.