Play to win startling lessons for small businesses from the climbing world


Greetings, fellow adventurers of the business world! Today, we embark on a journey to explore a powerful concept that resonates in the corporate boardrooms and the exhilarating realm of outdoor adventurous activities. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before: “You have to play to win, not play not to lose.” This mantra, which mirrors the courage required in competition climbing, carries profound lessons for small business owners in the outdoor adventurous activities sector.

**The Business Perspective**

In our quest for business excellence, let’s dive headfirst into the business perspective of playing to win. Small businesses often grapple with the allure of playing it safe, focusing on avoiding losses rather than taking calculated risks. It’s a trap we’ve all seen—a tendency to tread cautiously, like inching along a climbing wall with hesitance. But here’s the deal: playing not to lose might seem sensible, but it has drawbacks.

When businesses prioritise avoiding losses, they miss out on exciting opportunities for growth and innovation. Picture it this way: like a climber clinging to a safe spot on the wall, businesses can become stagnant, sticking to what they know and have always done. The result? Missed opportunities, potential stagnation, and the inability to scale the heights of their industry.

Jimmy Carr once told a story that drives home this point. In 2022, he presented an award to a business that invested £6,000 in marketing and made sales of £180,000. The audience cheered, but Jimmy Carr didn’t. He called them “idiots.” Why? Because he believed they should have taken a bolder risk, invested £20,000, and potentially made over half a million sales. That’s a lesson in itself—sometimes, you have to commit to a move even when unsure of achieving excellence, whether in business or on the climbing wall.

**The Climbing Connection**

Now, let’s transition to the thrilling world of competition climbing. It’s a world where climbers, like small business owners, face moments when they must commit to a move, even when the outcome seems uncertain. Just as in business, in climbing, it’s the climbers who play to win, not those who play not to lose, who often emerge victorious.

Climbers understand the critical importance of committing to a move. Hesitation can lead to a downward spiral, just as it can in business. Consider Domen Skofic’s gripping gold medal win at the 2020 IFSC Climbing World Cup. In the men’s lead event, Domen faced a challenging decision—a risky move to a small pocket that could have cost him the title. But he played to win, took the risk, and reached the summit, becoming the first climber to do so in the competition.

Or take Natalia Grossman’s triumphant moment in the 2020 IFSC Climbing World Cup in Salt Lake City. She faced a daring jump to a big hold, with the risk of a swing and missing the zone. But she, too, played to win, landed perfectly, and secured her gold medal.

These climbing scenarios beautifully parallel the calculated risks that businesses encounter. In climbing and business, decisive actions in moments of uncertainty can lead to remarkable success or provide invaluable lessons for future endeavours.

**Embracing Risk in Small Business**

Let’s talk about the tangible benefits of embracing risk in small businesses like yours, dear adventurers. Playing not to lose may seem safe, but it can limit your growth and innovation potential. Instead, consider playing to win.

Calculated risks can be the wellspring of innovation and a competitive edge. Think of companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Tesla. Netflix ventured from DVD rentals into streaming, Amazon diversified its offerings, and Tesla boldly invested in the Gigafactory. These calculated risks redefined industries and led to market leadership.

But hold on, there’s a catch. While risk can be your ally, it must be approached with caution. Small businesses need careful planning and analysis to mitigate potential downsides. That’s the crux of risk management—assess, plan, and adapt as needed.


In the end, fellow adventurers, remember this: like in competition climbing, sometimes in small business, you must commit to a move even when unsure of achieving excellence. Embrace calculated risks, step out of your comfort zone, and be willing to explore uncharted territories.

As small business owners in the outdoor adventurous activities sector, you’re uniquely positioned to blend adventure and entrepreneurship. The phrase “You have to play to win, not play not to lose” should be your guiding star. So, embark on your journey with courage, balance risk with caution, and may your small business reach new heights of excellence. Here’s to your adventurous success!

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