In 1911, 25 reindeer were introduced to St. Paul Island, an island that is part of the Pribilofs. They were introduced to replace the native caribou that had gone extinct due to hunting.
By 1938, the reindeer population grew to 2,046. A boom as they expected and the average body weight of the reindeer had dramatically increased by 22%.
A few years later, there were 8 reindeer on the Island.
No major predators were around. Bad environmental conditions didn’t play a role. Disease didn’t spread. The island of St. Paul hit carrying capacity. Every living thing (and business) has a carrying capacity. Biologist and economist refer to carrying capacity as K on a graph. Only 2 things can happen when you hit K.
- You can stabilize. You can overshoot and begin to stabilize around your peak until you eventually flatline at a comfortable level and continue existence.
- You crash. Which is what the reindeer of St. Paul Island did. They overshot carrying capacity and the population plummeted.
At best, the island could support 2,046 reindeer. But at the rate they were growing, resources would eventually come short. The island is unable to ween the reindeer off of their eating habit. The population doesn’t slowly decline or “hover” around their carrying capacity. The reindeer become practically extinct in one season because of starvation as the last resource is consumed.
I jump at the chance to tell this story. Last night a friend of mine was expressing how exhausted and consumed she was with her work/life/school balance. She keeps piling on the work and making no headway. She is taking steps backward. I applaud her for her efforts and confidence to handle so much. But everything and everyone has a carrying capacity. I doubt she will disappear out of existence, but you understand.
I think productivity and sustainability is all about finding that sweet spot. The sweet spot where you’re at the maximum productivity and still able to grasp and control growth. I’m not usually one to preach about “slowing down” and I won’t start now. But I believe without the proper understanding of your own carrying capacity, you will plummet.
A lot more plays into your personal carrying capacity then your work load. Romantic relationships, hobbies, friends, late nights, financial debt, stress, sex, school, food. Allowing your life to consume you will be the quickest way to be wiped from memory.
Find your sweet spot. Here’s how:
- Work to achieve a goal. Weed out the bad priorities.
- Be with someone who helps. If you’re going to be romantically involved with someone, make sure they’re taking the stress away – not adding.
- Unplug. The quickest way to feel overloaded is to check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email and blog stats 15 times a hour.
- Sleep. This is life’s natural way of rebooting you. Don’t take it for granted. I wrote more about the importance of sleep here.
***Can you believe they introduced more reindeer in 1944? Guess what happened.
My junior year in high school I signed up for an entrepreneurship class with the lady who usually teaches basic Microsoft applications to incoming freshman. What a fucking joke.
The only assignment was to write a business plan and present it to the class. That was it. 10 weeks for one assignment. You were even given the option to work with a partner. I usually work alone, but my twin brother Jeremy had taken the class with me.
I remember vividly the first 2-3 weeks in class because it was some of the best napping I ever did. Other students sat around and pretended like they were doing work. There was no pretending from Jeremy and I – we walked in, turned the computer on, checked my email (which was usually blocked, but I guess administration doesn’t know kids are actually tech savvy these days) and immediately put my head down for a solid 45 minutes of class. Why rush or put the effort in now? I had 10 weeks to create a 20 slide Powerpoint presentation of my “business plan”.
As I would sometimes drift around the room or try to skip class on days when I couldn’t sleep, I remember students putting so much pressure on themselves because they didn’t know what kind of business to start. Jeremy and I couldn’t wrap out heads around that. We seriously had 10 new business ideas each day.
Mrs. Teller (changed the name because she is a nice lady), our teacher, finally came around to noticing we were doing absolutely nothing with our time in class. So, instead of punishing us, she had us help other students think of business ideas because everyone wanted to start a restaurant and she didn’t want the whole class presenting on how they all want to open a Texas Roadhouse.
I didn’t mine the task so much. Jeremy and I sat around all class and let our imaginations and creative juices flow. We were gurus and untapped resources. Our minds were let loose and we flourished that day. We would always be entrepreneurs. We would always be idea men. We had great ideas for delivery companies, tech startups and everything else under the sun. These kids had no idea how to think of fun, creative, innovative businesses.
After practically writing business plans and explaining market strategy to the rest of the class, it was week 9 and we had yet to even start on our project…but we weren’t worried. We had been writing our business plan in our head all year. Jeremy and I were going to start a business building Nap Rooms. That is what we called it too – Nap Rooms.
See, we had been napping all year and praising how good we felt afterwards. Recharged, refreshed and back at 100%. Corporate offices, athletic clubs, universities, everyone would want a Nap Room. No more late night rendezvous leaving people dragging at the office the next day. Giving employees an opportunity to sleep for a small period of time in a room built for the ultimate nap. At the time, we thought we were geniuses.
We ended up not even using a power point slide. Jeremy and I wrote out some things on note cards and just bounced back and forth talking about possible growth. Besides, that’s what we were good at. Talking and napping.
I will spare you a lengthy ending and tell you that we aced the class (so did a few other students, wasn’t that hard to do so). But the grade didn’t matter to us. What did matter was that we saw other people get excited about our ideas and develop them on their own. Ideas that usually just get left at the cafeteria table or in the school store’s office we ran during our study hall.
Mrs. Teller didn’t teach me squat about how to be an entrepreneur, about how to write a business plan (who needs that shit anyways – waste of time) or about how to get a loan or investment. She was actually a pretty horrible teacher. But what the class gave me was a window of opportunity to learn how to pitch my ideas.