Beyond the Build

Community Service

Class by the Campfire: How to Confront the Unexpected

Being prepared is something that I can never get too much of. In business this means always looking around the corner to find the next job or being careful not to spend foolishly, and at home it means having that rainy day fund for when the unexpected happens.

I’ve been involved with the Boy Scouts for years, and every spring the members of BSA Troop 28 in Birmingham take a trip down to Five Star hunting plantation in Alexander City, Alabama where they train for their wilderness survival merit badge. We hike to a lakeside camping spot and our scouts are tasked with providing themselves shelter and nourishment for the weekend using nothing but what they find around them or fishing from the lake.

The scouts are not allowed to bring tents, and instead each scout is given a small assortment of materials and tools. After a bit of confusion, task delegating, and gathering supplies, they start to work making individual shelters out of pine straw, tree limbs, and the occasional fallen trunk. The designs are sometimes less than successful–you often wonder how they envisioned such a construction–but if anything they are unique. After everyone has built a shelter, a demonstration is made on possible ways to improve each one. The idea is to be prepared if one day you are caught out in the woods by yourself in less forgiving circumstances.

The boys take to the lake for food, and spend all afternoon fishing for their dinner. To make it a little more difficult, they are only allowed to take out fish smaller than 2 pounds and the rest have to be put back. At the end of the day they learn how to clean and fillet them, and cook them over an open fire.

The second night each of the boys is given a steak and they learn how to cook meat “Tarzan style”(thrown directly on the coals). They also learn how to cook potatoes and onions buried underneath the fire and bake pies and biscuits between hot rocks.

It is an experience unlike any other: sleeping in pine straw den under a lean-to of tree branches, and catching and eating your own dinner. It’s a taste of self-reliance for these young boys that teaches confidence and vital survival skills. It’s also an annual reminder for me about the importance of teamwork, innovation and being prepared for the unexpected.

What can you do to be forward thinking and train your business for it’s next big challenge? Cut back on spending? Find new ways to connect with your employees? Whatever it is, hold up three fingers for a Boy Scout oath and pledge to be prepared.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.