Rehearsing adversity

Visioning is part of elite sport.  An athlete will spend time visioning success, ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ what it is like, colouring it in in their head, picking up on details of how to adapt training, developing ideas about how to outperform opponents.  It prepares them for the stress of competition.  They can deal with it because they have already been through it in their mind many times.  There is a rule of thumb that 15% of this visioning time should be spent on anticipating and responding to disruption to their plans – it is part of enabling them to continue to perform even in adverse circumstances.

On 15 April 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first black player to appear in major league baseball when he turned out for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He would eventually be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, win the World Series and end his career with a batting average of 313.  He had been known for his fiery temperament and yet throughout his major league career he was considered to have shown uncommon self-restraint.

Before a contract with the Dodgers was signed, Robinson went through a gruelling meeting with their General Manager, Branch Rickey.  Rickey first set out the Dodgers’ vision for success and this included being the first integrated team in the league.  He then submitted Robinson to a series of scenarios of racist provocation that might occur both on the field and off it, going over how he would respond, rehearsing it over and over, hardwiring it, automating the responses.  Once Rickey was satisfied that Robinson could cope, he signed him. Robinson did more than cope – he thrived – his place in the Hall of Fame is testament to that.

Sport so frequently provides models for business to follow.  In business, visioning goes with embedding the strategy, colouring it in so every colleague understands it and knows how they contribute to it.  Part of that involves running adverse scenarios or stress tests – situations that might derail the strategy.  You run through a scenario in a group and confirm that appropriate indicators would give early warning and that there are controls in place to minimise the potential impacts and even turn them to your advantage, just as the Dodgers did.

Data source: Belonging, the ancient code of togetherness – Owen Eastwood

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