Posts Tagged ‘Grand Canyon’

Fifty Shades of Red

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

During my rafting trip along the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon we covered 225 miles. Along the way, there were many things that I expected – and there were things that were an absolute revelation to me.

The first revelation was the importance of the Canyon’s geology together with the mesmerising beauty of its different coloured layers, complicated by the constant zigzag of equally evocative fault lines.

The whole of the journey was through Arizona, which I already knew came from the Spanish “Arid zona” – what I didn’t know was that the name Colorado comes from the Spanish for “Colour red”.  And the River was red – in places. It was also many shades of red and many other colours besides. Every morning when I awoke, being only a few yards away, it was both easy and fascinating to check on what nature’s paint palette had created overnight – as its colour often changed from how it was the previous evening.

Its colour depended on the part of the river we were on, the amount of rain that had fallen, the waterfalls, side canyons, washes and creeks that were feeding into it, and the speed of the river (the CFS – Cubic Feet per Second) to name four. Look at these pictures of its different colours.

The very bright blue water is the Little Colorado River – a counterpoint to the usually murky waters of the Colorado.

I also came to appreciate that the colour was one of the aspects of the river that the guides used in assessing how it would be for our rafting that day. It helped them to decide how they were going to work with it.

As I lay be the river one morning, mesmerised by its beauty and power, I started to think about how the Colorado was very like a team.

On the face of it, the same river passes through the same route every day.  A traveller would think like that at their peril. A good river guide treats it as a different river every day, and recognises its changes during the day. And this is what a great manager does with their team.

A poor manager sees the same team coming to work every day, whilst a great manager doesn’t have the same team coming to work every day. A great manager has individuals coming to work who will be different every day – and so the team will be too. The great manager notices those differences and manages accordingly – like a great river guide.

In the Harvard Business Review, Marcus Buckingham highlights his findings from research that started with a survey of 80,000 managers conducted through the Gallup Organization and then continued for two years with in-depth studies of a few top performers.  Buckingham found, “… that while there are as many styles of management as there are managers, there is one quality that sets truly great managers apart from the rest: They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. … In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.”

Generally, people leave managers, not organisations.

In “The Value of a Good Manager”, Peter Drucker itemises the four foundations that employees look for in managers. They are:

  • Managers who show care, interest and concern for their staff
  • To know what is expected of them
  • A role which fits their abilities
  • Positive feedback and recognition regularly for work well done.

The first foundation is all about managers recognising the fifty thousand shades of their teams. And in terms of the Colorado, where the likes of the Little Colorado meet the Colorado (picture on the left), that could be seen as a new member of staff joining the team.

What can you do next? Think about yourself, your skills, your interventions with your staff. Drucker suggests five questions to help you:

  • Do I demonstrate care, concern and interest?
  • Am I clear in talking through what’s expected of my staff?
  • Are people working to their strengths? Do I provide support where staff are stretched? Am I proactive in this?
  • How often do I provide positive feedback and encouragement? It’s far too easy to notice the negative and feedback on this.
  • Am I creating the conditions where people want to work with me?

What colour is your river today, and why?

Paul

Rapid Lava Learning

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Mile 180. Lava Falls Rapid, Grand Canyon. One of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, rapid on the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon.  A snarling, noisy cauldron of churning waters intent on devouring anything or anyone who doesn’t show any respect – and some who do.

For those people like me rafting the 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon this is one of the white water highlights. For the guides taking us down the river, this is also a highlight – but even more so a challenge. They know the risk of the boats capsizing, together with the risk of serious injury (or worse) for themselves or their charges if the relevant respect is not shown. They also know that reputations are won and lost on the few seconds taken to navigate Lava Falls. YouTube logs many guides’ attempts to negotiate the rapids – often the ones that didn’t go according to plan.

Different guides displayed different signs, and I was particularly impressed by one of the guides in terms of her skills in these situations. Kiki is a woman in her mid-twenties who has guided many parties and regards the Grand Canyon – and in particular the Colorado River – as her home.  She has also never capsized a boat on the river – although she has taken quite a few unintentional swims through rapids – but is aware that capsizing is likely to happen at some point.

I was interested in her approach to navigating Lava Falls and she was kind enough to spend some time discussing it with me the evening before we “ran Lava”.

There were several points of particular note.

Kiki said that Lava Falls enters her consciousness early on in the trip (although the Falls are not negotiated until around Day 12), and often prior to the start of the trip. She described experiencing short “adrenalin bursts” on these occasions in anticipation of the Falls. When I asked how she reacted to these, she explained that whenever she experienced this, she would visualise the Falls and her anticipated route through the Falls (the preferred route can alter depending on a number of factors, but mainly on the water level of the River). Kiki found this a useful process in both making use of the adrenalin burst and in meaningful preparation for the rapids.

She then described how the guides would discuss the Falls the evening prior to running them, and how on the actual day of the event as she approached the Falls she would start to experience some nervousness and anticipation. She recognised that whilst these emotions were understandable, they were also potentially unhelpful, so she recognised and dealt with them.  She achieved this by discussing information and factual aspects about the Falls with her passengers. She explained that this helped expel the unhelpful emotions and focussed her on the cognitive task in hand in a helpful manner.

Having scouted the Falls and returned to her boat to run the Rapids, Kiki described how she monitored her breathing. She recounted how if she then felt apprehensive at all, she would take deep breaths – for two reasons. Firstly because it helped her to refocus her energy and ensure she was in the best physiological state to negotiate Lava, and secondly for a very practical reason – if she did capsize or go for an unintentional swim she would have plenty of breath! The importance of this last point was illustrated by one of the other guides who explained how they were thrown out of their boat, spent 38 seconds underwater in the clutches of the Colorado and were then spat out 25 yards from where they went under.

Finally, Kiki explained how she reflected on her approach, line and skills after the event – considering what went well and what, if anything she could have done differently – thus maximising her learning for the next time.

The majority of people reading this will not be river guides, but the approaches, behaviours, processes and practices that Kiki so effectively uses are instantly transferable to other situations – she demonstrates a use of Emotional Intelligence beyond her years in recognising and managing her emotions, she understands and applies the principles of being focused and managing her breathing, and she makes the most of every experience by implementing the Experiential Learning Cycle.

Whilst I have written about them before, I think this is a really helpful and practical application of these theories, and it demonstrates how versatile and effective they can be in supporting effective performance – whatever the context.

If I had been training as a river guide, the discussion we had would also have been a good illustration of NLP Modelling. If you want to identify and fully reproduce the detailed skills of a successful person, it is insufficient purely to watch their behaviours – you need to fully explore and comprehend their thoughts, mind-set and emotions in order to achieve their level of excellence. Due to the breadth, depth and quality of information gleaned, the process also accelerates a person’s learning.

And how did we get on? All the oared boats made it through, but the lighter (and more likely to capsize) paddle boat didn’t make it. It capsized, throwing out all seven occupants, however, four climbed on top of the overturned raft to row it through “Son of Lava Falls”, and the three others swam it – with one of the occupants receiving a minor head injury which looked a lot worse than it was due to the amount of blood he lost. A reminder of the power of Lava Falls and the need for the preparation and skills Kiki displayed.

Paul