Courage and Mental Toughness

different risk tolerances

My awesome wife and I respond differently to uncertainty.  This artist brilliantly illustrates our two reactions in the picture.  I easily juggle multiple plans.  My wife looks longer before she commits, but she does not look back.

We’re a great team.  In uncertainty, I grab opportunity and nimbly dodge risks.  She avoids taking foolish risks and perseveres to make opportunity into reality.  We love, trust, and encourage one another as we seek wisdom.

Wisdom enables us to adopt a measured, thoughtful, appropriate response to uncertainty.  Seeking wisdom takes courage.  Over the past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about courage.  Here is my working definition:

Courage is the worldview that strengthens us so we face the danger, fear, and sudden, unexpected changes we encounter in life, in activities, or in our surroundings with poise, confidence, and resolution.

Courage is not stupidity.  Rather, it is the fear-killer that prepares my mind for action so that I can do what I know I must do, despite physical, moral, or social opposition.

Do we need courage to win?  I think so.  Our world is certainly uncertain.  We know that storms will come.  Courage helps us ride out storms without losing our love of the sea.  Without courage, we choose to stay on the sidelines and lose the chance to win the victor’s prize.

Can we measure courage?  Possibly.  How about mental toughness?  Quantitative analysis of mental toughness is increasingly measurable.  Mentally tough individuals act according to their convictions despite opposition.

Mental toughness doesn’t mean inflexible rigidity.  Quite the opposite.  It measures flexibility and responsiveness as much as strength and resiliency.  Mental toughness means developing internal and external consistency before, during, and after the moment of truth.

If we need courage to win and if we can measure courage by mental toughness, then we have a victometric.  When the pressure is on, who consistently shows courage and mental toughness?  Ceteris paribus, they have an edge.

Bonus: this 3 page article has helped me bring these principles into my everyday work.  The Pursuit of Courage, Judgment, and Luck


Opportunity Navigation

The Problem:

A king wanted to test his wise men. He brought them to the easternmost coast of his kingdom and commanded them to build a bridge across the ocean from this point to a point on the other side of the ocean, exactly due east of where they were standing.

How do you build a bridge across an ocean? One wise man decided that he would build a platform and move it across the ocean from one point to another.

Navigation – the art, science, and discipline – has bridged physical oceans for centuries by fusing people, processes, and platforms into reliable, useful systems that overcome problems.  As we enter the Information Age, it is time to reexamine the discipline of navigation from a new perspective.

Today, many of our most pressing problems are not defined by physical oceans, but by digital oceans of data that threaten to overwhelm any who venture out of the Known.  But, as Andre Gide said, “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”  How do you do this without becoming utterly lost at sea?

The Discipline:

I submit that we need to recognize those in our midst who have the tools and discipline to become the navigators of the digital oceans.  For lack of a better term, I call this Opportunity Navigation (ON).  Rather than navigate the uncertainty of wind and waves, we must navigate the uncertainty of the unknown unknown.  Yet, for those who succeed, we transform obstacles into opportunities.

To the best of my knowledge, no one else has used this term in this way.  Therefore, a brief description is in order.  Opportunity Navigation (ON) is a systemic discipline that:

  • Increases competitive advantage
  • Reduces the effect of uncertainty
  • Enhances effective communication
  • Integrates lore from other disciplines
  • Develops data-driven decision making

Increases competitive advantage:

Navigators see more effectively, understand more deeply, choose more wisely, and act more quickly. They are proactive where others are reactive. They have a sense of internal balance, perspective, and orientation that sees opportunity where others see adversity. They have a firm trust and well-tested confidence that is not easily shaken.

When in a competitive environment, navigators move into a position where they control the tempo of the interaction and cause others to react to them, increasing their chance of success in the interaction.

Reduces the effect of uncertainty:

Navigators study uncertainty and confront their own limitations. They must know what is of first importance. They must steward what has been given. They must accept the limits of knowledge. They embrace uncertainty as the medium of creativity. They acknowledge the impermanence of knowledge and the value of knowledge that others have entrusted to them.

Understanding uncertainty is like knowing how to navigate the ocean. It does not guarantee avoidance of harm, but it does transform a terrible element into one of tremendous freedom and opportunity.

Enhances effective communication:

Navigators understand their environment and the tools that they can use. They are able to select the right model of communication, even in the midst of the storm. They know what to say and how to say it. Navigators understand that their job is to bridge uncertainty, find the way, and translate that knowledge into a model that others can use effectively to move together in the right direction.

Integrates lore from other disciplines:

Navigators must be able to understand and harness useful insights from many different disciplines. Navigation is hard work and requires careful calculation. Fortunes and lives may depend upon the results of the navigator’s analysis. The navigator must be able to integrate data from many different sources in order to correct for different types of inherent error. The navigator must be able to objectively test his work and know that it is correct. Multiple perspectives help to eliminate error.

Develops data-driven decision making:

Navigators do not simply set a course at random. That would be sheer folly. Instead, they have learned different proven methods for accurately arriving at a correct decision under certain conditions. They work to collect the data necessary to create the correct conditions for sound decision-making. The discipline of navigation results in an organization that is not tossed about by every wind and wave.

Acknowledgments and Thanks: As I have been struggling to come to my own understanding of these ideas, I have been heavily influenced by several excellent resources, including John Boyd’s work on the OODA loop, as described in The Mind of War by Grant Hammond.  A series of ongoing discussions with good friends (including Demetrios Mustakas, Mark Fedeli, Corby Megorden, Dr. Steve Techtmann, Dr. Chris Kinsinger, John Loftness, and Scott Somerville) have helped me to shape very rough ideas into something that makes sense.  My undeserved wife, Jessica, has graciously and lovingly encouraged me all along the way.  She makes my life a joy.  Finally, my life has been transformed by Truth, expressed absolutely in Jesus Christ.  Without apology, he is the blazing center of my universe.  Soli Deo Gloria.