Fail Big, Fail Fast, Fail Often!

In the week of the 2015 US Masters golf championship, many eyes are on Rory McIlroy. In 2011, an even younger McIlroy was on the verge of making golfing history. He carried a 4-shot lead into the final round, having played sublime golf for the first three days of the championship. However, on his final round he shot the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the 3rd round of the Masters. Not the piece of history he was after. Rory suffered what can only be described as a ‘meltdown’ in the unforgiving glare of the TV cameras and the golfing world.

Some pundits questioned his bottle, his psyche, his temperament, and his ‘big game’ mentality. Some said, “history shows that players who cough up big leads in big tournaments often don’t get another chance, their psyches permanently shattered by thoughts of what might have been.” (TwinCities.com

But, McIlroy went on to win 4 majors in the next three years, starting with the U.S.Open championship, just a few short months after his Augusta meltdown. He achieved his victory in some style too, setting a new championship record and becoming the youngest winner since 1923.
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On the Edge of Control

“…Fear is what keeps us from going over the edge……I don’t think what makes a good race car driver is a fearless person. I think it’s somebody that is comfortable being behind the wheel of something that’s somewhat out of control”.                Jeff Gordon

Imagine yourself riding a motorcycle in a high-speed race. You are at full throttle going round the final bend. Only a delicate balance between gravity and centrifugal forces are preventing you from flying off the track. At that moment, are you in control of your bike, or are you out of control? The answer is you are ‘right on the edge’. Too much ‘in control’ and you probably aren’t taking enough risk, and are unlikely to win the race. Too much ‘out of control’ and the likelihood is you are in for a very painful crash.

In 2013, at age 20, Marc Márquez of Spain became the youngest ever World Champion of MotoGP in the final race of the season in Valencia.  For anyone who hasn’t witnessed MotoGP, it is truly breath-taking. Riders appear to defy gravity on the bends, with their knees and elbows scraping the surface of the track at speeds in excess of 300km/hour. marquezExperts have commented on the young Márquez’s style saying, “….he drags his elbow on every corner and leans his body and bike closer to the ground than any of his rivals.”  In this sport, being daring and aggressive is a requirement if you hope to succeed. It would look as though an ability to shut out thoughts of fear, and consequences of getting it wrong, are a necessity in this sport. Yet, at the same time, knowing, in that instant, just what would be too much, too fast, too risky is clearly also a vital (and life-preserving) requirement. As is resilience, perseverance and the ability to learn from (and not be put off by) misjudgements.

During the course of the season, Marquez also set the record for the highest-speed crash in motorcycle racing. While practising his gravity-defying turns, he lost control at 320km/hour. He managed to throw himself from his bike just before it crashed against a concrete wall. He was catapulted into a gravel safety trap at 280km/hour, walked away, and competed in the race the next day.  He is very clear about the fact that he must keep learning and improving.  In the final race of the season, he needed to finish no worse than fourth to secure the title.  He worked out that keeping his two main rivals in front of him, where he could watch their every move, was a better strategy than having them plot and scheme their moves from behind him. He rode a sensible, calculating race, taking less risks, staying out of trouble, and safely securing third place, sufficient to win the World Championship.
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Leading with uncertainty

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” ~ Thomas A. Edison

I’m getting more than a little concerned about the world’s changing attitude toward ‘risk’.

src: stuartduncan.name

A fundamental part of our biological makeup, and a reason for the way our limbic systems work the way they do, is that we are well equipped for surviving. The very fact we are around today, writing and reading this post, is evidence of our species’ success in navigating millenia of ‘survival’ challenges. Being able to assess risk, and make decisions based on the available information, is key to that continued success. Certainty and absolute prediction do not exist in nature. The best we can do today is build up banks of data based on past events, use super-computers to model trends, and use experts to ‘predict’ based on probabilities. And, even then, it is remarkably difficult to get it right. The US Presidential elections were being predicted by political analysts and pollsters using many different indicators of what has happened (or not happened) in the past. But, they did not all get it right. Hurricane Sandy was being tracked minute by minute, modelled by the most powerful computers, and its likely course predicted by the best weather forecasters, but no-one could be certain exactly where, and how it would strike, and with what level of ferocity.

Now, I like to think that, as humans (who are inherently wired to understand probability, risk and prediction), we are tolerant and acceptant of the fact that getting predictions absolutely correct is simply not achievable.  But, I fear I am naive in this belief. I sense Continue reading

Wrong thing well or right thing poorly. Which do you prefer?

People at the top (however you define that) are more in need of support, coaching, or even just “an ear” than most, and yet they are the least likely to get it. High achievers are afraid to show any limitations. Asking for help – whatever that form takes – is to admit weakness, and our culture does not take kindly to ‘weak leaders’ who need help.

So, how do we want our leaders to be?  What is our model of the perfect leader?

If we don’t expect them to need help, then I fear we are expecting too much of them, and, at the same time, we are creating a ‘vicious cycle’ from which we won’t escape.

The norms and mores of our society have created unrealistic expectations, and as a result we see smart, ambitious people who are less productive and satisfied than they should or could be. Anxiety about performance compromises progress, resulting in lower levels of risk-taking and plateauing careers.

It is not unusual to see high potential achievers avoiding  Continue reading