Two weeks ago Naked Juice (part of Pepsi) hired a Wave Machine to promote their new range of healthy drinks. All week, the fittest and finest of the banks surrounding Broadgate Circus queued up to have a go. The Finance department had booked a place and on Friday I was asked to replace someone at the last minute. How would a fat and unhealthy middle aged guy compare to all these uber fit runners and cyclists?
Each 45 minute session consisted of two groups of four. The session was split into three parts. Part one was a training session on a body board. Each person got a minute and a half with an instructor who shouted out instructions on how to do ever harder tricks. Part two was a training session on a wave board, akin to a skate board but without wheels. Simply standing up for five seconds was the goal. Part three was a competition where each person tried to do as many tricks as possible.
Richard, a colleague who is keen photographer, came to take photos. Lots of fit looking people and a middle aged guy whose wetsuit made sure everyone knew he was widest in the middle. Richard told me that I had provided the audience with lots of amusement during the wave board training. The fit guys strode confidently to the wave board and stood tall for a fraction of a second before falling off. The fat middle aged guy huffed and puffed and stood shaking on the board. He knees were buckling under the strain of simply standing up, never mind standing up on a wave board. He wobbled and flailed around but he stood up. According to my colleague, the crowd thought it hilarious. After about a minute, I gave up and fell off trying to do some trick. I was exhausted.
During the competition, all the competitors gave it their all. The fat guy with the lower centre of gravity did a few more tricks than the others…. It nearly killed me, especially when I dove from the top into the wave rather than carefully enter like the others. My team scored 350 points, enough to beat the other team. When I got back to the office I checked the score board for the week. The current top score was 320. On Monday, Naked Juice announced the official results. My team won the week long competition.
The team with the fat middle aged guy beat all the others composed of super fit concept II addicts.
Why is this interesting?
We all make assumptions. Sometimes the assumptions are so subtle that we do not even realise we are making assumptions. They are the really dangerous as we end up following the wrong people. We look for the wrong stuff and do not even realise what the right stuff is.
In the case of a competition which consists of three minutes of wave boarding and body boarding, the key ability is balance and NOT fitness. However, most of the audience assumed that the key ability was fitness or stamina. Those funny movement made by the fat guy were balancing movements. He knew what balanced felt like and moved accordingly. The crowd had not seen someone balance before and thought it was funny. Think about that. The crowd thought the most competent person in the activity looked funny because they did not look like they assumed someone would look like doing the activity. Have you ever seen someone balancing on a stationary bicycle or unicycle? Are they still or do they wiggle about. Someone on a moving bicycle or unicycle is much more stable. And so it is on a wave board.
Even though I was not fit. Even though I carried more than a few extra pounds. I had the benefit of experience due to my other interests and hobbies, namely Windsurfing, Wake boarding, Snow boarding, Skiing, and Tai Chi. All sports that require balance, and improve your balance.
The same is true of managing projects and what people assume to be the right skills. People are hired to be managers because they are confident or commanding in style. However, a competant risk manager may need differents skills and abilities. If they are managing risk rather than their image, they may appear funny to those with an uninformed mindset. Their behaviour may different to what you expect. they may become friendly with their team rather than command total obedience. They might back down in the face of a superior argument. Look at the results, not the behaviour.
The next time someone achieves results but in a way that seems funny, ask yourself “Have I made the wrong assumption about how that needs to be done”.
Remember the winner is the one who stays standing on the wave board, not the one who looks cool just before they get on it.