Navigating Challenges

Navigating Challenges

The theme for this month’s insight is navigating challenges…and obviously we’re going to be talking a little bit about white water kayaking as well!

I had the opportunity last weekend to go white water kayaking with my brother-in-law on the Ottawa River. It’s something that I haven’t had a chance to do since university days and I’m a little older than I was back than so I have a few aches and pains but it was an epic weekend on the Ottawa River. There is a record water level this year which made the waves and rapids enormous.

I want to draw some parallels between how we would approach a typical rapid and how we approach other challenges in our lives, whether these are internal challenges, business challenges or whatever these challenges are. There are a lot of parallels.

When we come up to a particular rapid, it would be foolish to go crashing down the rapid without know what you’re getting into. So, what we do is we scout the rapid. We get out and we study the water before actually making our pass. This is especially true when we have these high water levels because there are some very dangerous holes and waves and recirculating areas that can hold you in there and unfortunately you can drown if you don’t know what you are doing.
A lot of people are very against white-water canoeing and white-water kayaking, mostly because they don’t understand it. It’s all about not going into this blindly and understanding what your up against, and that is what the scouting and planning is all about.So what we do is we study the water and, from experience, we can picture what that particular hole or wave or feature is going to do. Whether it is going to throw us to the left or to the right. Sometimes there are eddy lines that separate back-flowing water. With this information, we plan a course through that particular rapid.

This isn’t dissimilar to how we would approach a business challenge. Looking at the different challenges and how they will affect the course of action.

Having done that, without doing too much more planning, because some people just get caught in the planning stages for ever and ever, we take action. I’ve seen some kayakers just stare at the water for long periods of time and eventually just talk themselves into turning back or bypassing the rapid.

At some point you have to take action, to commit. This is where the agility comes into play. No matter how much planning we’ve done, in minimizing and mitigating the risks of being drawing into the more dangerous features, we have to be able to adapt.

Mostly the features are danger when you’re in your boat because that is when you’re on the surface so you can be recirculated in the wave or hole. If you have to eject from the kayak, the water flushes you through and before you know it you float down and before your know it you’re through that particular rapid.

We try to do everything according to plan but it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes we’re under water when we’re planning on making a particular move or something like that. That is why you have to have what I call a “bombproof” roll to get yourself vertical again. You make those adjustments and adapt to what your dealing with. This is, of course, the thrill of white-water kayaking! It is very fast paced and a blast right from beginning to end.

Afterwards, you look at the lessons learned and apply them to future rapids. So that’s exactly how we approach rapids and there are a lot of parallels to how we can approach other challenges in life: having that initial plan, taking action and being able adapt to the different challenges and things you hadn’t envisioned along the way.

Hope you enjoyed that and maybe I’ll see you on a river one of these days!
“You don’t paddle against the current, you paddle with it. And if you get good at it, you throw away the oars.” — Kris Kristofferson