Taming the Swarm

After writing about my recent epiphany, the journey to finding meaning in what I’m doing, and decision to focus on a single mission over the next year, a good friend emailed me an article called Taming the Swarm by Oliver Emberton. Wow, this article really nails it!

Ideas are cheap

The author illustrates direction, focus, and motivation as a swarm of bees in a balloon. Each idea you have, project you want to work on, and responsibility you are obliged to fulfil is a bee in your balloon. The problem manifests that each bee is moving and pushing in a different direction and, as such, they all cancel each other out. You (your balloon) is then only able to follow external forces such as wind blowing you, or a hill you roll down.

I have been there. In fact, I am there now. I’ve so many ideas buzzing around my head, all of them are great (well, I think so!) but they are all splitting my concentration, dividing my time, and limiting my opportunity for success.

I believe each and every one of my ideas has great potential; either commercially or just emotionally, helping me achieve my goal of encouraging people to get outdoors more. Currently they are all perfect, they are all possible, and all could have great impact. It is only when you start trying to implement them, though, that they become real and, by becoming real, they have the very real opportunity to fail, to not have the impact I envisage, and the results I can hypothesise about.

I have long believed that ideas are cheap, execution is everything. Everyone has had a $1 million idea at some point but I don’t know many people who have acted on it and actually executed the idea to that potential (I am actually quite fortunate to know a few people, such as Titus Sharpe, who have and am constantly inspired by their success).

By actually making an idea a reality, we open ourselves up to failure and that is scary. Who wants to take something perfect and lift the cover to find smoke and mirrors, wasted work, and lost time, and even money? This is where innovation happens, though. Where great achievements are realised, and battle wounds are received, licked, and welcomed again. This is what I thrive on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t thrive on failure, but I do thrive on pushing myself in something unknown, by pitting my skills, knowledge and experience against something not done before. using my past experience to manage and mitigate the risk I’m opening myself up to with the intention of coming out the other side, a little scarred, sometimes scared, but with more than I started with. The more can take it’s form as money, but it can also culminate in experience, knowledge, and more tools in my arsenal for next time.

Innovation and Climbing

As you all know, I have been bitten by the climbing, and especially the alpinism, bug. When I am out climbing, we approach a route and, much like a business idea, it is perfect. The outcome, the standing on the summit, is a beautiful moment but it is only when I actually commit to the route that it becomes real, that the chances of success and failure actually play out. Like in business, I have built up an arsenal of skills; mental strength, physical fitness, technical skills; to give me the edge and allow me to safely, or as safely as possible, negotiate the objective.

Before I set out, I carefully calculate the technical requirements of a route, the current weather conditions, conditions on the route, and other external, objective hazards and decide if I have what it takes to safely attempt the route. That doesn’t mean I only set out if I will definitely succeed, this summer I have had to bail on a number of routes but every route I have started, I have safely returned from, regardless of summit success. It is often these failed routes that teach me the most; learning when to turn around; pushing my limits; testing my comfort zone.

As in business, it is these moments when I gain real clarity; when everything is in the balance and I only have this one moment to focus on; when the results of my decisions have the most impact. It is here that I feel most alive.

My relationship with risk

For all my talk of loving this environment, it doesn’t cease to scare me. I don’t like risk and do everything I can to manage it down into acceptable chunks, into pieces that I feel comfortable with and that, from afar, look bold but, up close, are ok. However, it never ceases to give me pause for thought, and I am only comfortable with a given risky situation following extensive analysis and preparation.

When I cannot rationalise the risk I become hesitant, unconfident, and scared. I then put off whatever decision is giving me these problems until I can better confront it. Sometimes this is just a little time, but there are bigger problems I’ve still not developed the tools to confront. Each day I try and make progress on them but it is baby steps and through these baby steps that great progress can be made when you look back.

Taming my swarm

I have got all these perfect ideas; businesses, projects, and opportunities that at the moment have limitless potential but I need to start putting all my talk into practice. I need to start working on them and the only way to make any of them a success is to tame my swarm. To choose the one idea I want to work on next but how do I do that?

I don’t want to focus on just one idea though, as I want to see what all of them can achieve but how do I do that? I believe there is a way though I think I might be doing exactly what the author says is the problem. My recent idea of uncovering my purpose is taking it’s form as a mission statement.

My mission, over the next year, is to encourage and share my passion for the outdoors, opening up the benefits to people who haven’t experienced it yet.

I want that to be my big bee. I want this mission to be my direction, the underlying root of all my projects, allowing me to focus on several ideas at once but still retaining motion in a positive and deliberate direction.

I have had the most amazing response from my last post and, over the next month, I want to write about the ideas I have and get your input, help, and participation. So many people I have spoken too are looking to work towards the same mission I am and, I believe, together we have the best opportunity to achieve it.

by Charley Radcliffe

8 Responses to “Taming the Swarm”

  1. Conrad

    Great article (again!) Charlie. Just read the Bee article so thank you for sharing. It’s a great philosophy and I think you could also add large hands shaking the balloon up and down to make the bees slightly mad and confused. Those hands being external forces outside your balloon such as doubt, fear, naysayers, economics, your current situation and anything else that “stirs the hive” containing our personal projects and goals!

  2. Stuart

    Hi Charley
    Here’s my 2 cents (a phrase used when you never know whether the recipient of your donation will pocket it or discard it as worthless currency!).

    Here’s what I’d do, to decide on the one idea to focus on.
    First, go back and review your mission statement – it’s already changed a bit since the previous post. Discuss it with your confidantes. Dissect it. Does it really represent what you want? Amend it (or not) accordingly.

    You have this list of ideas (all of them perfect!), but need to focus on one. Can you eliminate any straightaway as being too difficult, complex, unachievable in the short term etc? If so, discard those.

    Write down a list of the criteria on which you can score each remaining idea. Examples could be:
    1. How profitable will this be in the first ?
    2. How much will it achieve my mission statement?
    3. How much fun will it be?
    4. How difficult will this be to achieve?
    5. Is it compatible with Sophie’s plans for the next year?
    6. How much will it allow me to spend time climbing etc?
    etc etc
    Then score each idea on each criterion: 10 is the “best”, 1 is the “worst” score.
    Again, you may want to brainstorm this with others before you get to the most realistic scores.

    And then see what the total scores are for each idea.

    Now, here’s an admission. I’ve done this in various situations in the past. And then thrown it all away and gone with the one that my gut tells me is best. I think the process of going through this type of exercise (for me anyway) tends to clarify my thoughts on the alternatives and through that process, rather than the scientific-type scoring, I come to a conclusion about what is the right one.

    Ok – that’s it. Tell me if you are already doing this or if you think this is a pile of ****** 🙂

    My mission for the next 8 hours is sleep!

    • Charley Radcliffe

      Hi Stuart,
      Thank you for this and it is awesome! You know, I hadn’t realised it had changed.. woops! Well, maybe that is my first step, really locking down my mission. It’s funny, I’ve done checklists before but found myself in the same situation as you: throwing it out the window and going with my gut. It doesn’t always work but I think there are parts of the brain that are allowing these instinctive decisions to be made that are hard at work at these moments. Thanks again, I’ll update you shortly!

  3. Zoe

    I love that you’ve got a massive pile of ideas Charley, definitely a better place to start than a sheet of paper with nothing written on. I reckon there must be one, or maybe two, that you are drawn to the most – the ones you keep looking at, the ones that you wonder if they are even possible, the ones that keep you awake at night. While they might not be the ideas to work to first (they are probably the most difficult), they are probably the ones you will end up working towards so keep them in mind as you concentrate on your mission.
    For me, the outdoors is where I want to be but due to other commitments the indoors is where the money is made. I wish you every success with your swarm of ideas and know I’ll be one of those people who is inspired by your future endeavours.

  4. Amanda

    I love this Charley and that you have put so much thought into all of your hurdles and ideas. Don’t forget to celebrate the fact that you have so many ideas and challenges to think about.


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