Going Downhill – Lesson 3

Going Downhill is a series of posts on lessons I’ve learnt about business from downhill snow skiing.

Lesson 3: There are times when some simple, professional advice helps

By 1986 I’d been skiing a week or two most seasons and was reasonably proficient on skis. I could ski all the usual terrain on offer in the resorts in those days and spent most of my time skiing the advanced/expert runs, and especially the bumpy bits (or the moguls as they are called in skiing.) I’d reached a plateau where I was quite happy with the level of my skiing ability given that I did it as fun for a few days at a time on holidays.

There was one thing I knew I did more than, say, my wife who is a little challenged skiing style wise but has an amazing sense of balance. And that was fall over. Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t the frequent falling of a beginner. I’d just find myself sitting on my butte a few times a day. For apparently no real reason. I put it down to my fairly go for it attitude and a still somewhat youngish exuberance. And, anyway, who cares? In your 30s it seldom hurts to fall when skiing.

It so happened that one day all the other folk in our skiing group decided to do a ski lesson. Since I hadn’t done one in years I thought I’d do one as well rather than spend the afternoon skiing by myself.

And so I found myself in a group of roughly similar ability skiers having a fun afternoon at New Zealand’s Treble Cone resort. About 30 minutes into the lesson I had a fall. Just the usual thing and I’m back on my feet in no time, ready to go. The ski instructor had watched the whole episode then asks me if that sort of thing happens often. I replied that it does happen from time to time. And he says he’s not surprised and that if I’d like to eliminate a great many of those falls then it would be a good idea to concentrate on the position of my hands. He explained that I had a tendency when something unbalanced me to throw my hands up and back. With the obvious consequences.

The whole conversation took around 90 seconds including the instructor demonstrating correct hand/arm positions. I took the information to heart and worked on improving my hand/arm positioning for the rest of the lesson. And the rest of that holiday. The result was a huge improvement in my balance in unexpected situations (e.g. hitting an unexpected icy patch) and a huge decrease in the number of falls.

Such a simple conversation and such a relatively easy improvement for such a big payoff. (These days in my 60s I can tell you that practically every fall on skis hurts and the fewer the better!)

It’s a similar situation in business. Sometimes we can be making a basic error that we don’t observe ourselves doing. It’s hard to “see” from the inside. A trained instructor does observe those things and in many cases an easy fix is there for the taking once we become aware of what we should be focusing on.

Keep in mind there’s a few key points here:

    1. It helps immensely when the person doing the observing and providing the feedback is appropriately trained. Some of my ski buddies at that point were good skiers and they weren’t shy of giving me advice. But none of them picked what was a fairly simple issue. This is even more critical with business – an experienced eye counts.
    2. It’s important to work with some-one who can not only identify the issue but has probably fixed that issue with multiple people and knows how to communicate what needs to be adjusted. That ski instructor got me engaged with his question about falls and then used multiple methods – describing, demonstrating and getting me to try it – to get the lesson across. Again, that’s just as crucial in business – not everyone learns the same way.
    3. We don’t know what we don’t know! Whilst we may be happy with our current level of performance we really don’t know where we may be missing out, or doing something that is making life more difficult than it needs to be. An experienced adviser will introduce us to material we haven’t discovered ourselves and at the right time to make a difference.

So…review how your business undertakes development of you and your team. Is it largely the responsibility of every person to help themselves (including you) or is there more structured training in place? Are you getting ideas/suggestions only from inside the business or are you getting input from appropriate external sources?

A chat with one of our experienced business advisers may uncover a host of potential improvements for your business.

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