For a few years now, there’s been a great focus at adidas on ‘creating the new’. This has been a powerful calling, as well as a challenge to step into – an aspiration that’s focused on creating change where perhaps people weren’t expecting or even imagining it.
Similarly, the world of sport has always celebrated those who find ways to re-write the rules, or have the rules re-written as a result of their innovative input. Those who imagine new approaches and redefine what is possible. These shifts in how we understand the game – and what can be achieved as a result – free people up from their previous beliefs. They inspire new ways to explore what ‘great’ really looks like.
‘The new’ became the stimulus that re-imagined how we work, how we educate, how we share, how we consider our health, how we understand our obligation to society, and so much more. While there are regular, uninspiring calls for us to find the ‘new normal’ (even typing that depresses me a little!), I’ve been taken by the opportunity for us to ‘live the new’ and stay focused on the power of ‘renewal’, but on our own terms, rather than as a response to a collective mandate to do it.
So, with the permission to ‘live the new’ freshly in our minds, what role can this outlook play for us in 2021? How can we wrestle things back so that we’re focused on a ‘new’ that we’re inspired by, rather than one we’re forced to implement?
Living a new view of collaboration – coping as a team sport
Right at the very beginning of the pandemic, I saw many wonderful responses across so many organisations where people were just collaborating. There was no agenda other than to get things done. It didn’t matter who you were or how you did it, just so long as the things that needed to be done were done. For me, this set the bar for what collaboration should look and feel like within organisations, as it truly represents a focus on the greater good.
When no one is bothered about who gets the credit for success and there are no personal agendas to have to navigate, we all focus on coping together and looking out for each other’s welfare. Questions like “how can I help?” and “how can we help each other?” drive a greater sense of collaboration, which removes much of the normal interference present in everyday work and life.
I’ve seen great examples of coping as a team sport outside of work too, with online workout sessions creating a supportive environment for anyone – regardless of their level of experience – to stay fit and connected during lockdowns. Who’d have thought that doing workouts on a rowing machine via video conference could be so powerful?
For me, ‘living the new’ means that if we’re going to compete in any way from now on, it will be on the basis of who can be the most collaborative person in any endeavour. When competitive collaboration is the norm, we’ll have added something incredibly valuable to the spirit of our work and that by helping others, our own ability to cope and feel valued will grow.
I’ve been running a programme that is all about how to win when there is no finish line. This programme was designed before the pandemic, but has taken on more relevance because the certainty we once had about future rhythms and rituals has been destroyed.
I recently read a great article by Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience) on the role of ‘teleoanticipation’ in sport, which studies the science of how finish lines affect physical and mental performance. In the article there’s a critical link to my new programme which creates:
- A new way of defining success
- An understanding of how to look after your body when there’s no finish line
- An insight into the importance of ignoring finish lines, even when there are ones
The article highlights the importance of asking yourself the simple question “can I keep going” as the key to managing yourself when there is no finish line. This replaces the question of “can I get to the finish?” (which in turn spawns other questions such as “will I be happy at the finish line?”, “will I get there quick enough?” or “will everybody else be happy with me when I get to the finish line?”).
Interestingly, when you ask yourself this question, your heart rate and perceived effort typically drops, meaning your body is being more efficient. In contrast, “will I get to the finish?” does exactly the opposite, meaning you’re under more stress, both mentally and physically.
As I look at how we can approach 2021, it seems we have the ideal opportunity to set ourselves up for defining success based on how well we can keep going by taking things one day at a time. If we can combine this with a more collaborative way of working, then collectively we can reduce how hard things feel, as well as taking the strain off our bodies.
Finishing lines will become something we just pass by as we keep going in a way that keeps us all happy, healthy and maintaining sustainable progress. Our individual and collective sense of success will be based upon how well we can simply answer ‘yes’ to the question of keeping going. Knowing that we’re giving ourselves the best chance to use our talents and energy wisely will give us all the confidence we need to progress with purpose and togetherness.
Instead of us being in a race to burnout, we’ll be competing for the title of most efficient and sustainable performer. That for me feels like a ‘new’ to act on right now.