The summer Olympics in Tokyo are well underway after already being delayed by a year and amidst doubts whether they would actually go ahead at all. With only a few spectators being allowed, I wonder what the impact is on the athletes, without the usual background noises that accompany these big sporting events?
I can hardly be considered a rabid sports fan, but there is something compelling about the international competitive aspect of the games that makes for great TV. The dedication and discipline of athletes who have spent most of their lives preparing for these often-brief moments is testament to the enduring Olympic Spirit.
I have often heard that phrase but was unsure what it meant so did a bit of digging around to understand it better.
At its core that spirit is about sportsmanship, personal sacrifice, and an unyielding will to reach the goal. And it is about developing the motivation to keep going and trying to improve every day. The culmination of all that effort is going head-to-head with your competitors, recognising their achievements may well exceed your own.
One of the greatest Olympians – as well as being amazing to watch – is Simone Biles, the gymnast. I had wondered at the apparent fearlessness of these young people but her experience of ‘the twisties’ underlined that the fear is always there somewhere. Well-known in gymnastics but only now in general circulation, ‘the twisties’ describes a frightening predicament.
The Washington Post described it well. “They lose control of their bodies as they spin through the air. Sometimes they twist when they hadn’t planned to. Other times they stop midway through as Biles did. And after experiencing the twisties once, it’s very difficult to forget. Instinct gets replaced by thought. Thought quickly leads to worry. Worry is difficult to escape.”
There are few of us, as managers and leaders, who haven’t experienced ‘the twisties’ at some point – wondering how on earth we got here and what to do next!
Strangely that phenomenon came to mind as I was listening to a discussion between Russ Roberts of the Econ Talk Podcast and the author Jonathon Rauch talking about his new book ‘The Constitution of Knowledge’. Rauch argues that the constitution of knowledge - the norms and institutions for testing the reliability of new ideas and accumulating knowledge - has been dramatically altered and threatened by the internet and social media.
Rauch introduced me to the concept of the epistemic funnel, one that had me stretching for the search engine definitions to get a better understanding of what it meant. Epistemic relates to knowledge and the study of it and funnel relates to the filtering process.
That made me think about the range of research, references and resources on management and leadership that are now available, a-click-of a mouse away. This is going to show my age, but I remember long treks to bookshops and libraries to find often only a very limited range of books and magazines to help me get better in my job as a front-line manager. Today the challenge is information overload – like drinking from a fire hydrant, as internet research has been described.
But what also struck me is that in spite of the vast amount of information available to us, and almost regardless of how hard we work at our technique, ‘the twisties’ might still get us. Keeping our knowledge in perspective while also looking after ourselves is the best way to build personal equilibrium.
"To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe."
Marilyn Vos Savant
Stay safe, lead well