Mark Matthews is a “big wave” surfer who faces fear and uncertainty with every extreme ride he takes. And he has something important to teach us in this new coronavirus world in which we live. strauss lead pic.jpg


You probably have seen people like Mark on TV – those amazing, brave (crazy?), intrepid surfers who ride humungous waves in Hawaii, or Australia, or wherever the endless summer takes them.


Mark is profiled at the start of a great new book called, Wild Success: 7 Key Lessons Business Leaders Can Learn from Extreme Adventurers. I recently spoke with the authors, Amy Posey and Kevin Vallely, who make the point that Mark isn’t crazy at all. In fact, as they put it, he is quite rational, and the way he approaches an extreme event like Coronavirus, err, I mean riding a monster wave, is something we can all do.


How Mark and other extreme adventurers handle stress is by using a method called “reframing.Instead of focusing on the danger in front of him (riding a wave that could literally kill him), Mark reframes the situation into “less terrifying problems that he can solve now,noted author Amy Posey, a leadership expert in Silicon Valley with an emphasis on neuroscience.


So, before heading into the surf, “Mark goes through an intense mental preparation, where he scenario-plans the direst outcomes and plans ahead of time his responses. Mark analyzes what he would do if he can’t breathe, is bleeding, or gets knocked in the head. He prepares and plans for the worst far in advance, as well as right before he goes in the water, and in that way, the scary situation does not seem as scary.  Mark even brings a defibrator in the rescue boat that follows him, just in case.


“By cognitively reappraising the danger, Mark anticipates how he will respond to situations and reframes those scenarios into less-terrifying problems he can solve now, according to Posey and Vallely.


How to Reappraise Danger in Business


Can you use this strategy of “cognitively reappraising danger” in business? Here’s an example from the book:


Let’s say you are on a conference call, making a presentation and you flub it a bit. Your boss calls you out in front of everyone. One way to look at that situation is to be embarrassed, or angry, or to assume the worst about your boss’ intent.


But a better way, the extreme adventurer way, is to reframe it and “assume a positive intent.” Flip the situation. Maybe your boss was actually trying to help you get better at presenting. Or maybe he simply wanted to make sure the team understood what you were trying to say. The trick is to “reframe the narrative in situations you can’t control. Doing so enables you to reduce the negative emotional impact you feel and improve the clarity of your thinking.”


Do you see how valuable just this one simple tactic can be at this scary moment?


Chunk down the big fear into manageable ideas. Plan for how to deal with them. See yourself handling and managing them. Instead of feeling like a victim of a pandemic, reframe your thoughts and look for the opportunity for your business, in your ability to lead, in your chance to help your team.


As Vallely told me, “Emotions can be contagions too. Your positivity will spread among your team, just as your negativity will. And as a leader, how you act, how you put yourself out there is critical, especially now. If you show confidence you will sow confidence.”


The adventurers profiled in the book have a saying: “Nothing is considered a failure in an adventure.” It all is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to have stories to tell (and boy will we have some stories to tell).


The end result is that, yes, we are in uncertain, frightening times. But the intrepid adventurer – and the intrepid business leader – can use uncertainty as an opportunity to innovate, reframe, re-label, learn, grow and teach.


Cowabunga indeed.


Steven D. Strauss is one of the world's leading experts on small business and is a lawyer, writer, and speaker. The senior small business columnist for USA Today, his Askan Expert column is one of the most highly-syndicated business columns in the country. He is the best-selling author of 17 books, including his latest, The Small Business Bible, now out in a completely updated third edition. You can also listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business SuccessSteven D. Strauss steve strauss headshot.png


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