What do snowsports have to do with flow and creativity?
The story starts about forty years ago.
In the 1980s, snowboarding was a banned sport at most resorts.
The original free-riders were snowboarders who got around this ban by taking their show into the backcountry — where they were free from resort rules and free to interpret that terrain any way they wanted.
This freedom translated into far greater opportunities for creativity which triggered more flow, which further enhanced creativity.
All this flowy creativity supercharged the rate of innovation, jacking up performance, and — when captured on video — looked like such ridiculous fun that everyone wanted in on the action.
Shane McConkey wanted in on that action more than most.
Among other things, McConkey is known for integrating the word “free” in extreme sports.
He desperately wanted to get away from the popularized word “extreme”.
It was overused and did not define the kind of skiing he felt he enjoyed most.
So he coined the term ‘freeskiing.’
That’s where it originated.
Nowadays, the ‘free’ prefix is used in all kinds of action sports — e.g., free surfing and freeriding (meaning on a mountain bike), when people are performing outside of competition.
This shift from “extreme” to “free” emphasized self-expression and de-emphasized winning.
And especially de-emphasized the idea of a solitary winner.
As long as free-riders were seeing interesting lines and riding those lines in interesting ways, they were winning.
No longer was the fastest person down the mountain the best athlete on the mountain.
To really win, you had to be creative.
Creativity became the way athletes judged a success.
Did I pick a cool line? Did it look stylish? Was I innovative?
Did I add anything to the conversation?
It’s why so many of these guys see themselves as artists as much as athletes.
Freeriding changed the culture.
And because all of these creative freeriding choices triggered flow, this cultural change was reinforced. Over and again.
What began as an individual value became a societal virtue.
These days, imagination and innovation form the basis for how these athletes are judged.
It’s also how they get paid.
You don’t just need to be better, stronger, or faster to get a part in an action and adventure sports movie — you need to be all those things and still show us something new.
Most important, you need fierce commitment to vision — you need to be willing to bet your ass on your idea.
Think about this for a moment.
While all creative types take risks for their ideas, very few are willing to go as far as action and adventure athletes.
By way of comparison, consider entrepreneurship.
Starting a company is considered one of the riskiest and most creative acts in the business.
We celebrate the risk-taking of entrepreneurs, we lionize their unwavering commitment to innovation.
So, if this is what we want, we should embrace creativity and innovation much more than winning.
Winning follows creativity and focus and a culture of creative creation can elevate us all.