Two years ago, I took a couple ski lessons, which later parlayed into me shushing down the slopes of Maine. Aside from just focusing on staying upright, I realized while cutting through the powder that there are also important business lessons concealed in the process of learning to ski.
Apply your skills to new obstacles. I used to be strictly a cross-country skier. It was a great workout that took me into some beautiful, remote locations. While downhill skiing is faster and requires more confidence, a lot of the same skills I honed on the cross-country trails were applicable.
For example, I developed good balance on skinny nordic skis. And I could make decent turns and control my speed very well. Those basics helped me maneuver downhill ski slopes without too much trouble.
The lesson: Working with new products or industries shouldn’t be scary. We all have a core set of skills and experience that can be applied in many situations. For me, the most important are probably research and interviewing skills. Those are key to getting up to speed when I take on new endeavors.
Break an imposing task into manageable pieces. When I stood at the top of that first slope, I thought there was no way I was going to survive it. I looked down that long, steep hill and wanted to go home. But the only way home was down the hill.
So I headed for the side of the slope where I would be out of the way. Because I took a slightly horizontal path, the pace was manageable. Then I turned and headed for the opposite side. And that zig-zag route got me down the slope. It was like cross country skiing down small hills. By breaking the slope into small, not-so-steep paths, I was able to finish a major journey.
The lesson: The zig-zag approach is an effective project management strategy. Take an ambitious goal and break it into pieces. Each zig or zag is manageable and within my skill set. Once I finish one leg, the next is ready to be tackled.
It's also how I execute business strategies. The major goal is accomplished by concentrating on the daily tactics that get me to where I need to be.
Learn to fall. A friend of mine says that if you don't fall while skiing, you aren't learning anything. That's because you won't fall if you stick to your comfort zone. But a fall is usually a sign you are going a little too fast or trying conditions unfamiliar to you.
Falling can also take the pressure off. Most of the time a fall doesn't injure anything but the faller’s pride. And once you have fallen, you learn that falling isn't so bad. Taking chances becomes less risky.
The lesson: The same conditions that cause you to fall on the slopes can cause you to fall in business. You’re going too fast. You’re trying something new. For the most part, those failures are small. They don't have to hurt. And they're lessons in what to do better next time.
Now that I have a couple seasons of skiing and falling behind me, I'm ready to tackle new challenges. I'm making choices that are based upon my experience but steer me outside my comfort zone. There are risks, but for the most part, failing doesn't hurt much.
Carl Natale is a recovering journalist who now blogs about how small business owners can develop and improve their businesses. He shares ideas and tips on CarlNatale.com and as @CarlNatale on Twitter.
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