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Why we ski….

“What I really feel is that, if on a pair of skis … I forget everything but the joys of living…” Viscount Anthony Knebsworth, in a letter to his father, Earl of Lytton, 1924

The mood is melancholy in the home office today, as we head out for our final ski weekend of the year.

Doing the math, I think we have probably gone ‘up north’ to our ski chalet at least 14 weekends a year, for the last 10 years. That’s a big commitment. And through that time, I’ve come to intimiately link the process of learning how to ski in your ‘middle years’ to the process of innovation.

Back in 2003 …. they’re significantly taller now!

Let me start at the beginning – ten years ago, I didn’t know how to ski; neither did my sons who were but 5 and 7 when we flung them at the hills. My wife had a bit of easier time, with a few years of casual skiing under her belt.

Back in 2001, 9/11 had just happened; it was autumn; the global mood was gloomy. Economically, the world was pretty challenged; and in my case, there was certainly a drop in bookings as the global meetings and event industries pulled back. It was an easy time to really pull back and recoil in fear at what was going on in the world — or to get out and do something.

So in a moment of inspiration, we decided that we needed to do something to keep in a positive frame of mind!

Let’s take up skiing as a family!

And so, for the last ten years, from mid-December until the end of March, we have spent just about every single weekend getting to the chalet, and dragging our sometimes weary-selves out to the hill every Saturday and Sunday morning. We’re talking early starts here — at first, we were all in lessons, and had to be at the base of the hill by 9 or 915. Then, my sons became volunteer instructors, and then full time instructors, and they had to be there at 815AM. This meant most weekends began at 645am, a sometimes challenging process on Sundays’ when there might have been a little bit too much apres-ski the night before. Ten years of committing that in the winter, it’s not about sleeping in — it’s about getting out and relishing in the cold, the snow, the wind, the sunshine — whatever the heck the weather-gods were going to decide to throw at you that day!

The last five years have been particularly extraordinary; with my sons working,I’ve often found myself as the first guy in the lift line, 830am, despite temperatures some weekends of -30C, high wind, bone chilling cold — and wondering if I had a few loose screws. (I stopped taking ‘weekend work’ about 8 years ago when I realized that speaking at a conference in Miami at 8am on a Saturday simply couldn’t compare to skiing with my family and friends instead!)

So why the melancholy mood? Ten years on, it’s the final weekend in which the four of us will all head ‘up north’ together. Next year, my oldest son heads off to university. Our weekends will have changed, but the skiing will continue. So it’s a bit of a thoughtful drive today.

What might this possibly have to do with the theme of innovation?

Because I think that the commitment that we made to skiing, is comparable to the commitment you have to make to innovation. We didn’t know how to ski. We wanted to learn, wanted to become good at it, and wanted to make it a part of our life.

So here’s the linkage between “becoming a skier for life” and becoming an “innovator for life.”

  • you need to be relentless in your focus
  • you need to commit
  • you need to stick to your goals
  • you need to consistently and regularly mark and acknowledge your progress
  • you need to admit that while you might not know anything about the subject at hand, you are willing to spend the time to learn about it
  • you have to conquer your fear that you might fail
  • you need to be prepared that there are a lot of others who are better at it than you are, but perseverance will eventually pay off with their respect
  • your first attempts might look pretty unpolished, but success will come over time in an incremental way. It’s not all about having a home run right at the start!

If you are willing to take on a challenge, you can accomplish great things. My sons have; my proudest moments this year came when:

  • my oldest son attained his Level II ski instructors qualification after a gruelling 5-day instruction/examination; he’s now part of a small group of elite skiers that are recognized for their skills. He has an important new life skill that I think is unparallelled.
  • my youngest son, a snowboarder,and also a Level I instructor, was rewarded with the Instructor of the Year award at our ski club, chosen for his diligence, maturity, attendance record, respect, and yes, even for a snowboarder, great attitude.

Here’s to the snow! What’s the link between innovation and skiing? Here I am on stage in Zurich, just before I went off to ski the Swiss Alps in 2006:

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