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By F R (Rhys) Robinson
Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have all referred to business as an adventure at some point. Looking at the elements of what constitutes an adventure, this makes complete sense. According to Matt Walker, coach, author, psychologist and professional mountain climber, there are five components of an “adventure”: high endeavour, uncertain outcome, total commitment, tolerance for adversity and great companionship. These can be seen in every great adventure story, from the Indiana Jones classic Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Avengers movies and even films that might not be traditionally viewed as fitting in the adventure category, like Hidden Figures.
The first element – a high endeavour – Walker explains, is “that which is intrinsically worthy of extra effort and devotion”. While many endeavours are necessary, like filing your tax returns or responding to emails, a high endeavour is out of the norm. It’s something that “inspires us to be the best possible version of ourselves”.
Walker explains that high endeavour helps individuals and teams align their actions with their values, including in the workplace. To me, that speaks of purpose. Unfortunately, in a business context, when we talk about purpose, people often get caught up in an organisation’s mission statement and vision.
High endeavour and true purpose are not a fancy paragraph on the company website – they tap into human nature and what drives us as people. In my opinion, we are all intrinsically designed to strive for human evolution. This is our collective high endeavour, and we are most fulfilled when every aspect of our lives pushes us towards this aim – intellectually, spiritually, psychologically, physically and in terms of our work. Human beings who achieve great things do so because something inside them drives them to push their boundaries. That’s high endeavour.
People, teams and businesses that are purpose-driven tend to be motivated, build lasting relationships and take risks that pay off. They are the true adventurers. They are the Oprahs, the Steve Jobs, the Wayde van Niekerks and even the Beyoncés of the world.
It’s important to understand that not all adventures end in “winning”, however. Walker cites the example of Rocky Balboa, who ultimately lost to Apollo Creed in Rocky. He nevertheless experienced success in that he completed the mission he set out to. High endeavour means defining success differently, and this has been my own experience in the business world.
Simply chasing profits is not high endeavour. Tapping into our core beliefs and living our values in the work we do is. And that means sometimes growing more slowly, at least in the world’s eyes. It means choosing to do the right thing, not the easy thing.
The premise of a great adventure story is that the main character will be transformed at the end of the journey by having navigated conflict and obstacles along the way. The same is true for business adventures. They result in growth, making you different (and hopefully better) than you were before.
This is encapsulated in the business concept of kaizen – a Japanese word that loosely translates to change for better or continuous improvement. Essentially, kaizen means seeing big results through making many changes (even if these are incremental) over a long period of time.
To me, kaizen and high endeavour are made for each other. High endeavour gives us the motivation to stay hungry and keep setting new goals, while kaizen tempers this by reminding us that not all changes need to be major ones. As long as we’re moving forward, even if it’s slowly at times, we’re making progress.
This is one of the things that is perhaps not addressed often enough in adventure stories – the need and importance for times of reflection and the opportunity to take stock of where we are in pursuing our high endeavour.
Yes, there will be times of hyperactivity or big events (in adventure films, these are the car chases, sword fights and showdowns), but there will also be times of training, reflection and even recovering from setbacks. Think of the elaborate preparation scenes for each daring task in the Mission Impossible movies, or Harrison Ford ducking into a hospital to patch up his injuries in The Fugitive.
Our film heroes continually live their high endeavour, and they are willing to do whatever is necessary to serve that endeavour. At times, this means investing in training or up-skilling, or in other scenarios, taking care of problems or wounds that will compromise their mission if left untended.
In your own business, it’s important to understand where you are in the adventure cycle. Are you just setting out or are you in a period of consolidation or about to engage in your biggest challenge yet?
Wherever you are, keeping your purpose, values and high endeavour top of mind will ensure you are able to walk the narrow path and navigate your particular adventure.
AUTHOR |F R (Rhys) Robinson PhD is Executive Director: Strategic Partnerships and Marketing at Infinitus Reporting Solutions