How my (dangerous) hobbies help my work
I like dangerous hobbies. “If I get it wrong I could die” type of dangerous and it helps me at work in a number of ways.
When I was younger I was doing the Accelerated Free-fall license, solo parachuting. I had never done a tandem jump, no interest in that. I wanted my fate to be in my hands. I wanted to fly, not be flown.
There was a full day classroom instruction before being allowed to jump out of plane solo. It was a couple of decades ago but my recollection of that instruction was 8 hours of being told then asked “What do you do if your main chute fails?” Mid-afternoon after hours on uncomfortable wooden chairs, enduring the boring repetition of the instruction it was my turn to be asked “What do you do when you main chute fails?”. I replied “Cut away the main chute…” (it is another cord, you don’t have to pull the old swiss army knife as you are plumetting towards to the ground at terminal velocity and start hacking away) “…deploy the reserve.” “Why do you do that?” he asked. A ridiculous question I thought. “Because I am not going to die.” I said trying to hide my frustration. “I think you are ready.” he said.
The subtle point there is I didn’t say I don’t want to die, I was very clear I was not going to die.
The same attitude applies at work. It is just language and a state of mind to commit to hit a deadline or target, not just ‘try’. By doing that there is an external and internal commitment.
This is even more important as a leader. If a leader doesn’t believe it can be done it probably won’t. If the team sees the leader doesn’t really believe it can happen it won’t. If you can lead a team to a seemingly impossible task they will follow you to the ends of the earth.
Not everything is possible so the other factor is expectation management. “I need this today!”. “Sure, today goes until 11:59.59 right?”. IE There is no way I can get that done by 5, 6 or even 7pm but you will wake up tomorrow with that task completed no matter how long it takes me.
You need to go slow to be fast
I don’t jump out of planes anymore. I do track days in cars. Death is a prospect with this hobby but also getting it badly wrong can be very expensive. My car isn’t insured on the track in most instances and drivers usually have to pay for any damage they cause to guard rails, fences etc. On a track the car is going fast but the driver has to slow that down in their mind. Any quick, jerky inputs to the car will make you slow and even dangerous to yourself and those around you. When things go wrong, for me, everything slows right down and there seems to be mountains of time make the right the decision. I’ve never had an accident on the track. If you watch people having an accident on the track they are often doing an awful lot in the car. Lots of inputs, often different inputs, steering one way then the other. More throttle, then less, then brake. The adrenaline has kicked in and they are making decisions and executing actions too quickly when in fact they need to make a single, considered decision; quickly. In the video below what is only a second or two felt like 4 to 5 times that to me. There were two different actions I needed to take. The first time I could drive through it, the second I was too far gone and had to step off the throttle to recover control of the car.
There are two other little lessons in this video. 1) First time through the corner there was a professional instructor in the car. I have done lots of track days but can always learn more or polish up existing skills. 2) The second time I was not going full pace as there were slower in cars front of me. I wasn’t in the right gear, my brain was lazy. If you are going flat out you are completely focused and make less mistakes.
So when things are going fast you need to slow things down your mind by speeding up your brain function. Unlike being definitive which is simply a state of mind I am not sure how I learned this. I think I’ve acquired this through necessity by doing dangerous hobbies. There is another important lesson in this video, described in the captions, that also rings true at work. You have to know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em. This is analogous to picking your battles in professional life. Don’t waste energy fighting a losing battle, make your point and move on.
Going slow to be fast doesn’t not mean do nothing. With both of these hobbies deferring decisions or taking too long to make a decision is potentially fatal. You have to take action, you need to slow time which is in reality speeding up your brain to assess the all the options quickly and make the right decisions. A non-decision is sometimes worse than the wrong decision. It delays, it leaves people aimless and erodes confidence.
Unlike skydiving or driving cars on a racetrack for most people no-one is going to die from a decision they make at work. Rather than calling the second one hour meeting to debate one direction over another make a call. Start down the direction that seems most logical. Often it become apparent if it is the right direction in less time than the second meeting would have taken.
To be a good leader you must be willing to make the call.
I’m David (Mylo) Myall, Analytics Practice Manager at DWS Group.