Going Downhill – Lesson 1

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

Lesson 1: Being taught by amateurs isn’t the best way to learn

Anyone whose known me for long will quickly realise that I’m a very keen snow skier. Grew up in a little town called Cooma, the gateway to the Snowy Mountains, and I’ve been enjoying skiing for over 50 years. No, that’s not me in the photo – I’m not quite that old. That’s my very own father in full flight. However that’s the type of equipment I started skiing: leather, lace up boots; and skis home made out of planks of wood, ill-adapted for the purpose.

As I said we lived in Cooma, which was around one hour drive from the snow. So it was natural for the kids in our town to go skiing. And it was my father, whom I loved dearly, who taught me to ski at 6 years of age. I should really place the word taught in inverted commas. Dad had picked up a little knowledge of skiing without the benefit of instructors. This he then attempted to pass on to us.

It is many, many decades ago but I guess it took around 10 minutes. He showed us kids how to put on our skis, how to walk up a small hill, how to shuffle around at the top and how to ski down in a straight line. All very important lessons – nowadays we’d call it basic mobility – but unfortunately that’s where the instruction stopped. I remember asking: “what if we want to stop?” The reply: “Just fall over.” And: “How do we turn?” Same reply. To which was added: “Walk up and ski down as much as you can. We’ll be back to get you for lunch.” And off he went to join the other adults.

Of course I don’t want to leave you with the impression that he’d just abandoned us kids to our fate in some inhospitable mountain regions. It was a very small ski resort, the beginners hill where we were was in easy sight from everywhere, there weren’t as many people as these days and all of them would have been family friends in any case.

So my similarly aged and inexperienced friends did as asked. We also watched the other kids and copied what we could. And somehow learnt to find our way up and down that hill. And to turn. And to stop. Without falling over. Well, some of the time anyway.

I don’t have clear memory of the hours/days we toiled on that tiny hill trying to get enough control over our skis before we were allowed to actually ride a tow.  But I do know that ski instructing for beginners has progressed a considerable way from that early “instructing” that I received. Beginners under professional tutelage can make rapid progress, with much better safety, from the beginners areas on to the hill proper. And most of the ungainly skiers I’ve encountered on the mountain are those who have been initially instructed by family or friend who probably wasn’t that skilled in the first place at either skiing or instructing. Bad techniques and bad habits can get locked in quite quickly. And can take time and effort to overcome.

Now my question to the business owners reading… How do did you learn about business – from “helpful buddies” or experienced business professionals who could offer real advice and useful insights? Which would have been the quicker path to whatever success you enjoy today? And, most importantly since we can’t undo the past, how do you intend to train yourself and your team from this point on?

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