For 25 years I’ve been a keen skier, but nothing I have ever done (or will ever do!) on a pair of skis can compare with the aerial gymnastics I’ve been watching this week in the new Winter Olympic sport of ‘Slope Style.’ If my skis leave contact with the snow for more than a second or two, almost inevitably an undignified crash will follow! So I have huge admiration for all the athletes who compete in this highly entertaining – and very risky – sport.
Watching the Sochi Olympics, I got thinking about the risk involved in many of these sports. We have been treated to watching the best competitors in the world risk everything in the pursuit of their ultimate dream – Olympic gold. Sometimes, that risk pays off, and sometimes… well, there’s many a disappointed skier or boarder who will testify to the disappointment that follows when things go wrong.
What struck me particularly though, wasn’t just that the individual athlete is willing to ‘risk all’, but that the team behind them is supportive of that risk being taken, in pursuit both of personal glory and team success. In effect, the athlete has the permission to try, without the fear of being publicly humiliated by their colleagues in the event of a failure.
Too often in life, people are discouraged from taking a risk because of fear of recrimination if things don’t work out. And that’s a pity, because it’s when we take a risk that we have the opportunity to achieve extraordinary things. Of course, I’m not talking about reckless, ill-considered risk; I’m talking about calculated risk, in which the outcome is absolutely worth pursuing, although by no means certain. It’s when we take risks like that that we learn the most about ourselves, and make huge steps forward in development and achievement.
According to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we are happiest and most productive when in a state of ‘flow.’ This state is achieved when high skill levels combine with high challenge. In essence, when a skilled, capable person pushes the boundaries, great things might happen. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it!
Here are some ‘attitude to risk’ questions to get you thinking: Do you give your team ‘permission to fail’? Do you encourage your team to achieve extraordinary things, by taking appropriate risks within their area of expertise and experience? Does your reaction to a failure encourage a person to get up and try again? Do you know your team well enough to assess appropriate levels of challenge?
In short, do you facilitate a state of ‘flow’?