6 reasons ski racers are stronger in business (Part 1)

 “To win, you have to risk loss” – Jean-Claude Killy

I’ve always found it interesting to learn where some executives found their competitive edge along the way.  For some, it was being a chess champion.  For others, their competitive drive leads them to sailing or car racing.  Me?  I got my start in the world of ski racing.  Here are six key reasons that ski racers have deeply rooted business skilss:

  1. Competition comes in many forms

It’s not enough to just be the most prepared athlete to win the race.  Ski technology is constantly changing so equipment can win or lose a race at the top levels of competition.  Race order is done by a drawing so the race course can be dramatically different from the first to the last racer – tough, that’s ski racing!  And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, the weather becomes your foe.  With many races won by .01 seconds, competition is fierce.  In business, competition typically comes from many different avenues including the broader economy: let’s call that the weather.  While you can’t change the weather, the other elements of business typically have some level of control.  Change what you can, ignore what you can’t!

  1. Objectivity is the road to improvement

“If you aren’t living on the edge, you are taking up too much space” – Jim Whittaker (First American to summit Mt. Everest)

One of my coaches early in my career would always echo this quote.  The way he explained it was that we all have a comfort zone which differs from others.  Focus on staying on the edge of your comfort zone or maybe a little over it and improvement will occur.  Stay in the middle of your comfort zone all the time and you are just wasting valuable training time.

Since ski racing is a measured event with very little subjectivity like referees or other judgement factors, there is a high level of objectivity with the time-clock.  Ski racers become really adept at reviewing their objective results, even without a coach.  I’ve viewed countless hours of video to find areas of improvement.  Measurement and figuring out how to measure yourself is a key to ski racing development in much the same way as running a business requires this same skill.  This skill directly applies to business as one of the most difficult aspects of business isn’t measurement, it’s picking what to measure.  Ski racers typically excel at this!

  1. Ski racing requires independence

From an early age, I realized that skiing required an unusual amount of independence.  The first thing my parents taught me was how to carry my own heavy, cumbersome ski gear!  From a training perspective, many sessions involved guided free skiing which means my coach showed me skill to focus on and then we went and essentially free skied to try out those areas of focus.  There were no gates or time clocks to keep track of effort.  I could have just as easily skied straight to the bottom without giving a care in the world, but to improve I knew I have to focus.  In much the same, startups typically have advisors that provide guidance but they don’t run the business for you; that’s up to executive leadership to focus on and drive forward.  Always practice improving your business skills even when the clock isn’t running and you’ll see better results when it does matter.

Enjoyed part 1 of the article? Check out 6 reasons ski racers are stronger in business (Part 2) !

Credit: Dr. Jim Taylor  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/alpine-skiing_b_2624981.html

Alex Birkett  http://thoughtcatalog.com/alex-birkett/2013/10/the-7-lessons-ski-racing-taught-me-about-life/

About the author:

Brian Gagnon is an ex-ski racer and athlete turned business executive.  He studied Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Maine.  Now he spends his time working with technology start-ups as a technology evangelist and business leader.  Brian is an active USSA Tech. Delegate and coach as well as assisting with World Cup races around the globe.  When he’s not talking tech with businesses or on the slopes, he’s most likely traveling, enjoying the outdoors or exploring the world on his motorcycle

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