“If you aren’t in the moment, you are either looking forward to uncertainty, or back to pain and regret.”
In 2004, Chris Hoy won gold in a tumultuous 1000m sprint cycle event in the Athens velodrome in a new Olympic record. Affectionately known as the ‘kilo’, the event was the blue riband of the track cycling, it was rarely anything less than spectacular and not for the faint hearted athlete (involving 60ish seconds of all-out effort, of which 45 are pure pain!).
Between 2004 and 2008 the Olympic programme was changing to include mountain bike and BMX but cycling’s international governing body (UCI) were required to find room on the rosta, rather than just add new events. In their wisdom they proposed chopping the kilo and the 500m for the women, (rumour has it that they tried to call the IOCs bluff, by picking two of their premium events, but the IOC just accepted their recommendation!).
So in early 2005, while in his physical prime, Chris Hoy was faced with an uncertain future… the event he specialised in no longer held a position on the most prestigious platform.
Many people today are experiencing a similar prospect with a shroud of uncertainty in their work, in society and politics. The pillars, institutions and methods we once thought were relatively stable and predictable have become volatile and incalculable, and in turn cascaded doubt down to all quarters, such as investment, strategy, and the need to move forward. The danger here, is if you wait and see – you’ll get left behind; if you ditch analysis and observation driven decision making you could end up pursuing speculative options.
What did Chris Hoy do in his uncertain situation? His options were, to hang up his helmet or pursue other events.
Amongst his options to continue to compete, were;
- Team sprint – Chris Hoy was already Olympic bronze medallist from 2000 games, but to step to the top of the podium, needed other outstanding athletes to combine with and to develop extensive team working and synchrony.
- Keirin – a free-for-all of a race, where the fastest doesn’t always win. This would require him to adapt by learning an advanced strategic delivery in a chaotic situation.
- Match sprint – slow, slow, fast: an all-out effort alongside a single competitor. This would require him to increase his brute force and tactical responsiveness.
While you could argue all three require pushing hard on the pedals for a short period of time, for Chris Hoy these options would require extensive reinvention, deep dedication to adapting his skills, dividing his training preparation and a leap into the uncertain.
In these uncertain times we might be faced with similar situations. Here’s how to navigate through them:
- If you have a predictable future ahead, then traditional planning methods work well. For Chris Hoy this was no longer available to crack on, so he had to explore the options below
- If there are two obvious roads ahead then you need to stay alive to both and develop plans accordingly. For Chris Hoy he could have put his eggs in one or two baskets and pursue the alternatives. For you, can you see an alternative option rather than just doing as you have always done? If so, does that require change and are you readying for that change? Do you have clarity and are you listening to your staff and clients about their thoughts and feelings?
A range of futures
- If as Chris had you have a range of futures then you need to explore the gamut of scenarios at a shallower level, and look for overlap between the possibilities. For Chris Hoy, that meant exploring each of the three events, adapting his skill level and responding to how he adapted to each. For you that means having several plans for several scenarios and engaging your clients and staff in co-creating the future.
- If the future is truly ambiguous then you need to ground yourself in what you know and what you don’t know and continue to develop in areas that you know will continue to be important. For Chris Hoy, there was the potential alternative that he could be exploring three different events only for the kilo to be reinstated, for example! Therefore investing in fundamental training, staying strong, staying fast will always transfer across in cycling. For you, that means investing in professional development around critical thinking, communication, team working, self-awareness – these are not going to diminish in their benefit – if anything they’re likely to get you out of sticky situations ahead.
Key questions to consider
- Are you concerned about an uncertain future ahead? Then you have a choice in front of you!
- Are you failing to respond by waiting to see how it goes? Then be more Chris Hoy and begin to adapt!
- Are you tuned into the potential alternatives, readying your skills and plans to be able to respond? Great, be more Chris Hoy and act by beginning to test and develop those skills. Just as Chris Hoy adapted areas of team development (Team Sprint), strategic delivery (Keirin) and an ability to stay fully aware of the possibilities finding the right moment in which he could go full gas (Match Sprint)
Now is not a time to plateau, now is a time to invest in your development to create certainty while everyone else is being uncertain around you! Invest in developing you throughout your career.
Chris Hoy went on to reinvent himself in an emphatic style by taking a further 3 golds (team sprint, keirin, match sprint) at the 2008 Beijing games and 2 more (team sprint, keirin) at the 2012 games! Legend!
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