10 thoughts on skiing that will make you think about business

As all business owners know, when you step away from work you never really stop thinking about it — even when hurtling down an icy slope in the Alps. This December/January I escaped the Sydney heat and headed over to France to get in some skiing over Christmas. In between near collisions and much-needed vin chaud, I couldn’t help but ponder on just how much learning to ski is like running a business. You make mistakes, master new skills and hone your technique.

10 ways skiing is like running a business:

1. You must fall down to learn how to get up again

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I have learned so much about running a successful design and marketing business by making a whole load of mistakes. Richard Branson says that “You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing, and falling over.” Just like learning to stand from a sprawled position on a steep slope, learning how to recover from mishaps is what makes your business stronger.

@@As all business owners know, when you step away from work you never really stop thinking about it — even when hurtling down an icy slope in the Alps http://bit.ly/1PXJTjf@@

2. You need to fall a bunch of times before you know how to ski

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Someone told me that you have to fall seven times before you know how to ski. In my experience, this is true in business as well, where it probably stands to reason that you don’t know what you’re doing until you’ve made about seven decent mistakes and learned how to overcome them.

3. Let go of your fear

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Starting a business is kind of like being chucked off a chairlift at the top of a black run. It’s terrifying. The only way to get through it is to conquer your fear and summon up the confidence to know you can make it down the mountain in one piece. I’ve always liked to do things that scare me a little bit; I’ve jumped out of a plane, survived a chicken bus in Guatemala and navigated traffic on a skateboard in Manhattan. Quitting my comfortable full time job in London to move to New York and launch my design start up, Popdot Media, back in 2012 was like jumping off a cliff. I’m now at a point where I welcome the challenge of adding new arms to the Popdot umbrella — Popdot Publishing, Popdot Health and our pre-launch project Briefed — and embrace every opportunity to take on new challenges and push the boundaries just a little bit more.

@@Learning to ski is like running a business. You make mistakes, master new skills and hone your technique http://bit.ly/1PXJTjf@@

4. Aim to succeed before you decide to fail

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Don’t misunderstand me here — it’s ok to fail, no need to flog a dead (or dying) horse. Just don’t decide to fail. Now — full disclosure — I’ve not quite mastered the triple flip yet, but as a beginner skier on the slopes in Chamonix, I found myself deciding that it was easier to wipe out than it was to concentrate on my technique to avoid hurtling into a crowd of small children. It’s probably not the best idea to decide to fail. Think; don’t panic. Use the skills you have learned to get through tricky situations — failure should never be an easy way out.

5. Branding really does matter

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The matching outfits of the ski school instructors, carefully designed to fit the school’s style and vision, gave me confidence that they were organized and knew what they were doing. I realise this is superficial, but that doesn’t diminish the impact the branding had on the class participants, all of whom got on board and signed up for lessons before arriving in resort on the back of a well-designed website. In my line of work being able to see the impact of well-executed branding and brand strategies on the companies we work with is enormously rewarding and a huge motivator for coming in to work every day as we love watching our clients’ businesses evolve and grow and mature in the markets in which they operate.

@@You don’t learn to walk by following the rules. You learn by doing, and falling over. @richardbranson http://bit.ly/1PXJTjf@@

6. Ignoring your mistakes and glossing over them leaves a terrible impression

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But admitting your mistakes and fixing them can create long-term client loyalty. I won’t lie, our first day on the slopes was miserable. None of us knew what we were doing and the entire class felt that some key concepts hadn’t been adequately explained. We were on the verge of throwing in the towel when the ski school quickly replaced an ill-suited instructor and had us all smiling in no time. When running a business, sometimes things go wrong despite your best efforts. Servers fail. Deliveries are late. Contractors disappear at a moment’s notice. Salvage a potential disaster by admitting the problem and taking responsibility.

7. Never ignore the basics

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Our ill-suited ski instructor from day 1 assumed a lot of knowledge: he assumed that we knew how to stop, how to turn, and how to get up when we fell down. Then he took us all down a blue run that saw all eight of us comically (in hindsight) strewn about with skis and poles sliding down the side of the mountain. I’ve been guilty of doing much the same thing at work, both with clients and with employees. Remember that no one has the exact same knowledge that you do. Your clients have incredible knowledge in their own areas of expertise and have hired you because they don’t have time to undertake the years of training that have gone into creating the skills that you are bringing to their business. With both staff and clients, don’t overcomplicate concepts and remember to break tasks and information down in a way that is easy to digest and interpret. On day 2 of ski school, our new instructor went back to basics and made sure the group had a solid foundation before we tackled that blue run again. This tactic holds true for the way you manage and train staff, the way you develop and document business processes, and the way you deal with clients.

@@Starting a business is kind of like being chucked off a chairlift at the top of a black run http://bit.ly/1PXJTjf@@

8. Keep smiling

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This is very ‘love and light’ of me, I know. My friend and awesome career coach Jenny Williams (http://jennywilliamscoaching.co.uk/) will no doubt be LOLing as she reads this — I confess that my cynical side is indeed occasionally overtaken by heaps of positivity. Just as a positive outlook will help you down the slopes, it will help your business to succeed. Not only do you have to believe that you can do it, but you have to think positively about your goals if you want to succeed.

9. Avoid complacency

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Just as ski runs progress in difficulty from green, to blue, to red, to black, so should you. I never stop reading and I never stop learning. I read at least one business book a month and I am constantly doing training courses and learning new skills. Progression is vital to business success as it keeps you current and it keeps you relevant while also keeping you excited, energised and interested in business growth. Looking back over my career at the leaders I have most respected and admired, and looking around me now at both colleagues in my business circle and clients doing awesome things, the one thing that immediately sets mediocrity apart from excellence is a thirst for knowledge.

@@The one thing that immediately sets mediocrity apart from excellence is a thirst for knowledge http://bit.ly/1PXJTjf@@

10. Know you need help to master it

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As eMyth guru Michael E Gerber states, 80% of businesses fail with the first 5 years and 80% of the remaining businesses fail within the next 5. Sometimes you need help to build, maintain and grow. This may be help in the form of skills you don’t have (e.g. outsourcing your design/marketing/accounting), or in the form of help to unearth skills that you have within you but need a nudge to nurture (e.g. seeking the advice of a business coach or mentor, or a business strategy consultant).

Now I’m back in Sydney I’m glad to be getting my teeth into design and strategy again. I still can’t really ski, but I’m getting there and looking forward to having another go at mastering it just a little bit more the next chance I get.