Sunday 9 September 2012

Allegories for the modern employee

The word for this post is iteration. We'll loop around to it by the end. So while this may look like a post about mountain bikes, it's actually not.

Outside of work, I spend quite a lot of time on the back of a bike. Sometimes, depending on the trail I'm trying to ride, I spend a lot of time literally hanging off the back of the bike, ruing the stupid idea I had in my head that I didn't need to drop my seatpost because that's what the real bikers do and I'm not a real biker.

Anyway. I ride bikes a lot. And sometimes the reactions it elicits can be really quite amusing - a look of shocked horror as someone looks at the smartly dressed person in front of them, and I assume tries to imagine what on earth that person could ever find appealing about hurtling down the side of a muddy hill at high speeds.

But I learn a lot, riding my bike. And most other people do too, and though their day jobs may be different and the learning may not be so obvious, you can be sure that the person who turns up for work is shaped and honed by the time they spend lovingly trying to avoid breaking something critical.

Because lets not be coy about this. Riding bikes can be dangerous enough on a road with the hazards of other road users. But throw some mud, slippery tree roots, dumped gravel, tree branches at eye level and cunningly positioned tree trunks which appear to move subtly 3 centimetres to the right just when you weren't looking and it becomes a slightly more challenging proposition. And so risk, a word which comes up ever more increasingly in my day job in terms of averse or management or calculation, is something I am really rather familiar with. You may think that when on a bike that the only person directly impacted by your own bad risk assessment is you yourself. Until you factor in mountain rescue,  air ambulances and the rather more minor but no less irritating to those around you hanging about waiting for them, the after care, the logistics...suddenly the importance of your getting that risk assessment bob on becomes a little more obvious, no?

And so it is that when it comes to carrying out risk scans at work, I look behind me as well as in front, and always assume for planning purposes that that tree trunk will move 3 centimetres to the right when I'm not looking.

So we move to decision making. Brutally, dither at 15 -20 miles an hour on a descent and you might as well get off the bike and hand it to the mechanics in your local friendly bike shop. Dither and you'll be lucky if you come out of the situation with bruises. Do not dither is the little mantra I whisper when I'm 100% focused on the trail in front, when I see an obstacle coming at me that I don't know how to deal with. I have to make a split second decision, but more importantly I have to commit to it. I don't need to break down how this transfers now, do I? Learning to commit is not an instant thing. Learning to make decisions that fast is not an instant thing. It takes years of practice and crashes and learning from mistakes to realise that more often than not, avoiding making a decision because you don't know the right answer can be fatal.

Then there's the minor point of leading. Accidental leading, more often than not, as a gate appears, the people who know the trail stop to open the gate and suddenly you find yourself without a wheel to chase ( or more importantly follow) and instead find yourself in front. No one else's line to follow. No one else to warn you of upcoming horrors. No. Now you're the one who's got to call clear at road junctions, got to make a decision on route finding, got to embarrassedly back track when the GPS off route beeping echoes around you, who has to fall off to find that the trail surface changed since last you flew down this particular bit.

In other words, you have to take responsibility. And apologise when you get it wrong. And hope getting it wrong doesn't result in anything worse than a small detour around an unfriendly looking herd of cows. And it's scary, the first time it happens, really scary, but the more it happens, the more you are forced to step up and not shy away from it, the more settled you become and the more you get to know the riders around you and what they need warnings on and what they do not. And no doubt the first few times it will be annoying and you'll get it wrong and accidentally insult or patronise. But after a while, you know everyone well enough and it all just falls into place, gently and quietly.

Don't need to draw you any pictures there either, do I?

So what am I saying?

I guess that what I'm saying is that I am constantly learning - not inside of work, but outside of work. Mountain biking, the thing I do in my spare time, accidentally is equipping me with some skills I really need in my day job. That some of that learning is useful right now and some of it might not be but it's all learning. That even when I go home, I am grown up enough and self aware enough to know - just like all of you reading this - that I can't just switch off from trying to become a better person. That I didn't set out to use it to become better in my day job but somehow it just happened. And that I am, as are all of us, constantly under iteration.

Iterate, feedback, listen. Iterate, feedback, listen. Guess messing around on bikes isn't quite as childish as I'd initially thought, then.

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