A short while ago, the Liminal Collective team had the honor to run a very special camp for a team of extraordinary people from a nation’s cyber operation. Their daily mission is to defend and advance their national interest across cyberspace but, in spite of what you might think, advanced technology is not the most important aspect of their work. There are real people behind every keystroke, required every day to exhibit elite levels of leadership, performance under pressure, team communication, entrepreneurialism and creativity. Plus the humility to ensure they never stop pushing the boundaries of their expertise.
As you can see from the video, the Liminal Collective team accompanied this inspiring team people in a series of exercises addressing all those qualities necessary for their work, including a breathing session in the pool like we did at Milken. But one of the most interesting efforts we made together was around the dimension of courage.
On the face of it, we assume courage is a quality humans conjure up when faced with adversity: the firefighter combating the wildfire, the child standing up to the bully, the cyber warrior defending her national interest. That’s true, but consider the quality of courage at a deeper level, when there is no apparent adversity to overcome.
It is a natural human instinct to do what others expect, to conform, to avoid the risk of putting yourself out there. Those who are capable of pushing past that instinct, who innovate and break beyond conformity, are courageous. It could be as small as the difference between having a new idea that you keep to yourself, or one you share with others.
Our collaboration with the cyber team taught us a lot about courage - they demonstrate courage in their day-to-day. Our work together at the camp pursued the topic further. We partnered with Ben Potvin at Cirque du Soleil to run improvization sessions, exercises that placed the team in a completely different environment and encouraged the team to expose their ideas, emotions and personalities to their peers - exercises that required courage. We were grateful for the energy and openness they demonstrated throughout.
The brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in the process of cognitive control and inhibition. For a cyber warrior the ability to maintain cognitive control, even while under considerable stress, is vital. Yet at the same time, the PFC can inhibit the entrepreneurship and creativity required of them to be the best. That’s where courage comes in. Exercises for individuals and teams that explore how the boundaries of inhibition can be broken thanks to courage give a new sense of permission in the group.
Why...aka the benefit:
There are four benefits here for participants.
First, the experience of being courageous and taking risks in a new environment helps individuals appreciate that courage gives permission to put yourself out there, be vulnerable and do something new; and when you do, you’re being creative. Creativity requires courage.
Second, this is not a single individual exploring their own courage - this is a team. And as a team, witnessing and embracing the courage of others, we learn to accept their creativity, build on it, advance it.
Third, as a team, witnessing and embracing the courage of others, we learn to trust. You can be courageous and discover the risk you took didn’t work out. That doesn’t matter - it is the act of courage that is most important.
Last, as a team, we learn to communicate better.
The capacity to embrace vulnerability and take courage to do something new is applicable to anyone performing at a high level. It opens the door to creativity, which is the difference between a top flight soccer player and Lionel Messi, or a professional pianist and Herbie Hancock. To be an entrepreneur with a new idea, a musician with a new riff or a climber working a new route, you need courage as the catalyst for that creativity. The courage to fall off. The team around you is your psychological safety net; the net that allows you to keep trying until you’ve broken new boundaries.
What you can do:
Gather people around who accept your vulnerability and who you trust. And take a moment, every day, to be courageous. Take a risk in front of others with an act or comment that is true to your thinking but may be outside the limits of conformity you believe are in place. It could be a new move on the basketball court or a new idea at work. Be courageous.