On a recent Instagram post @chasinrainbowz I noted how surprised I was to find that my work colleagues consider me to be a strategist. I was initially a bit shocked – everyone would tell you that I’m a consummate planner of incredible detail with my work as I need to be for safety, but a strategist? I often have heard comments like, ‘if we want something done we know you’ll get it done’ - planning comes naturally to me, so does leadership - but in my line of work, plans are great but you need contingencies for flexibility. I’m a great goal setter and achiever of those I set, but I wondered how much I actually knew about strategy, and how I use these skills personally and professionally. Initially I thought the word ‘strategy’ was one that most people would associate with manipulation and winning. Maybe there is in a ‘game of chess’ sense, but in life, there’s a different perspective to it. This blog was always going to be about placing the things I’ve discovered and are important to me, so here’s what I know about strategy.
Strategy is choosing where to play and how to win, just not winning in a competitive sense for egotistical gain. When I was refining myself trying to decide on a new career path, strategy was essential. That was about choice, trade- offs, focusing efforts and choosing a single path of action amongst alternatives. It’s about knowing which opportunities to pursue and which to ignore. About creating value, vision and differentiation for an outcome. Now my profession as an outdoor guide and leader is all about delivery of an outcome or an experience, that hopefully will transfer into life for those who choose come on that journey, their own journey.
If we want to continue on the 'chess game' theme, tactics and such moves are hands on skills. Strategy is a thinking skill, a skill you can grow and develop. Various personality tests and types can mean allowing people to see where they might have a predisposition to certain traits, but these tend to box people in and I’ve never been a great fan of them as a tool for allowing people to reach their potential.
Strategists use time as their greatest tool, they create time, time to think. This is something that I’m personally not negotiable on. I get up every morning between 0400-0430, to watch and photograph a sunrise, exercise, read and think. It’s the only time on the day that is truly mine and I protect that time fiercely. My morning routine of ensuring I see the sun come up everyday also aligns with my values of its importance - those layers another time. It’s my brainstorming place and when I’m out solo hiking or hiking with clients, solitude with no distractions and 'think time' magnifies incredibly. It’s a critical element in any journey. There’s no on/off thinking button or clock to watch – it’s there all the time. In spaces where there are no clocks or distractions, the ability to see the big picture comes into play. I’m not talking about views from lookouts. Most participants and clients I’ve led and spent time with in the outdoors tell of a single trend – the ability to see the forest from the trees and start noticing macro trends in their lives. They begin to ignore the noise. And just like I said I personally noted in my last blog after I put my life on hold, remove the clutter and clanging - clarity.
Once you master ignoring the noise, the critical thinking begins to unfold. The differentiation between where your trends are and where the fads in your life are. Acknowledging personal bias, identifying and questioning your own assumptions, thinking outside the box, finding new angles to solve problems and seeing things from a different perspective. Expedition hiking makes this happen is a very fluid way, with sometimes a lot of resistance. It's a very needs based and for some people that results initially in either fear or frustration. Again, essential in growth zones. Resistance from pushing that trend of ‘Comfort Zone’ therapy into the Goldilocks Zone, the zone where people perform to their own optimal performance through challenge in a safe yet adverse and foreign environment. I continue to do this myself every time I put on a pack, sometimes it's by myself, sometimes it's with others.
According to ‘Dr Google’, master strategists spend lots of time with other strategists who are high up the ‘stratosphere’ than them to brainstorm. This isn't rocket science, there's a space theory in this and I love big space. Big space has big thinkers in it. I remember seeing the first Shuttle Launch - that hooked me too, but that's another story. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is human nature. Mentoring - that good ol' saying, 'if you think you are the smartest person in the room, change rooms.'
Long term thinking is another key. Not months, but sometimes years. I’ve grown to acknowledge recently how I consider how the events of today will impact that time frame and where I will be in my industry in the long term. Futuristic, but decision making about where I want my visions to go plays into seeing the trends, gathering information, predicting and foreseeing obstacles and planning ahead for overcoming those obstacles is always positive momentum and positive momentum is always momentum with purpose.
So how does this transfer with what I can allow my clients and participants to achieve in the outdoors? Simple.
Allowing people the opportunity to gain the skills, knowledge, and attributes needed to quickly assess a situation and multiple opponents, in that game we now call 'Wild Chess' (like the weather, time constraints, pack weight, etc), understand their psychology, wants versus needs, their strengths and weaknesses, their physical, emotional, and resource limitations, and how to use every bit of knowledge, math, science, available resources and tricks to maneuver or manipulate them into creating the best possible outcome at the most appropriate time - in an environment that is completely new to them, where there is no old way of doing things, just new experiences.
Sometimes out here in the wild places of the world you don’t win. Rarely does mother nature give it to you, but that’s the beauty of it, it takes time to master strategy and in the wilderness, time is the only guarantee that you do have.
With groups of participants I will manage the risks by first filling in my own facts boxes then create a set of alternatives, circumstances and expedition routes about where we could go and why any of those alternatives should be fought for. That’s when I hand my information over and allow the group/individual or nominated leaders to then take over the strategic thinking by asking the right questions. How will we get there (or win)? What is a stake? How will we define our success (how much momentum did we achieve)? This process allows them to think of all the angles, gather information through anticipating any questions so they can plan it as a team or individually, to hopefully ensure they become clear about what they need to execute that plan. To be clear this is still just a plan, the outcome is theirs to gain. Personal potential development through this process and the opportunity to witness this process within group or personal dynamics in Outdoor Education is a privilege. The process and that evolution through personal growth and potential is why we do what we do. The term 'Leadership Development' is a big concept at the moment and it has it's place certainly. However from my experience, you mention 'Leadership' to some people and they will run a mile and emotionally close off - they just don't want to play the leadership gig. I've stopped using the word 'leadership' a lot and now use 'management' with my profession as personal management to increase potential is for everyone. Essentially they're exactly the same thing just on different scales, just that personal potential development is more attainable and practical for more diversity amongst participants and clients. Not everybody wants to lead, not everyone should and not everyone can. But everyone can play as much as they need or want to in the Goldilocks Zone.
Strategy is what a strategist does. Recognizes the truth, assesses limited resources, find the strengths in those resources, and applies that strength against opportunities and weaknesses in whatever is between you and your desired outcome. Knowing that things never going according to plan, anticipating that, and achieving optimal results despite internal politics, unintended consequences, mistakes, skilled resistance, and an unexpectedly hostile environment. Strategy is knowing how to change the plan when things need to change. It’s dynamic and alive. Just my kind of place. So yep, I guess that they’re probably right – I’m a strategist, but I chose not to label myself as a Master Strategist …. that takes time, and out here in my world, I have plenty of that.
(the Goldilocks Zone is an term used in astronomy and astrobiology to refer to the perfect habitual zone for a planet to exist within its circumstances in distance from the sun - not too far away (cold) and not to close (hot) - right in the peak activity spot of the adventure zone)
@chasinrainbowz via Instagram
My daily blog and thoughts via Instagram @chasinrinbowz