Hills and Headwinds

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Illustration by Ben Young
Hero image
Illustration by Ben Young

So often I see people looking at challenges as hills to climb as opposed to headwinds to navigate.

Yes, headwinds and hills both create the need for an extra effort, mental and physical. Yet they are not the same.

Hills are finite, often visible, and come to an end. With enough grit and will, you can conquer the hill. Some people love taking on hills. A hill offers a destination, an endpoint, a discrete feeling of accomplishment.

James Carse offers an excellent alternative framing in his outstanding book Finite and Infinite Games. He describes finite games as the familiar contests of everyday life; they are played in order to be won, which is when they end.

As CEO of Hornall Anderson, I find the finite lacking, dull and short-sighted. There are undoubtedly finite aspects to our business. A deliverable, a project and month end. However, the game takes on added dimension and richer meaning in a headwind and in an infinite context.

When I returned to Hornall Anderson in June of 2017, my aim was to help navigate the headwinds. To guide us into our fifth decade. There was then and always will be work to do. To balance short-term and hill-like obligations with the long-term and ever-changing ways of the wind.

An early move was to reframe the game of business. No longer was it a hill to climb, but a long-term, never ending co-existence with the wind. The wind is infinite, it can rise up and fade away, only to return again. It is invisible. Wind can come at you from dead ahead and from the side.

As Carse says, infinite games are more mysterious. Their object is not winning but ensuring the continuation of play. The rules may change. The boundaries and even the participants may change. And through it all, with flexibility, vision and persistence, the game is never allowed to come to an end.

In my experience, the perceived effort required to navigate a headwind is far greater than the perceived effort required to climb a hill. This makes it more interesting.

In our business, we encounter a lot of hills and defined end-points. Yet, for the good of our clients and ourselves, we must look beyond them.

It is here that I see an opportunity. To be the team that works with our clients to navigate the headwinds, the unpredictable, the always shifting environment they face. We win when we navigate the unknown and serve as guides for tomorrow’s exploration.

It is the unceasing winds that help us power our flywheel. Connect with people. Be fearless in our creative problem-solving. Meet clients where they are. Invest in the relationship. Repeat. This is how we build momentum.

We may have maps, but in our role as guides entrusted with the heart of brands as drivers of a business, we must look forward and anticipate. We must steer and inspire ourselves and our clients through the unknowable, where opportunity can be uncovered, cultivated and grown.

Let’s look past the hills to the horizon. Let’s ignite our imagination, feed our curiosity, and harness creativity as we co-exist with the winds of change.

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