Cartoons and swimming can aid financial services professionals. Yes, really

Professionals from sport, art and military backgrounds are sharing their experiences of reacting to stress, setting goals and engaging people with their financial counterparts

“When you work in bomb disposal, you get out of bed every morning not knowing whether you’re going to get back in that evening,” explains Major Chris Hunter, the army’s former senior counter-terrorist bomb disposal specialist. The same cannot often be said of working in banking, admittedly, but Hunter insists that his rather more dramatic and life-threatening experiences during a military tour in Iraq can be relevant for people whose working lives entail a different kind of risk. 

In the March print edition of the Review, the CISI meets with motivational professionals outside finance and ponders how managing extreme stress and taking calculated risks underlie a broad array of careers. That fact can draw surprising comparisons between different worlds and teach valuable lessons to those in the financial sector. Here are some of the top nuggets of wisdom.

Eliminate what is irrelevant to reduce riskHunter explains that: “When we encounter a highly stressful situation, the prefrontal cortex, which enables us to think rationally, plan effectively and communicate clearly, is inhibited, while the limbic system – the ‘fight or flight’ centre of the brain – takes over.” To reboot our rational thinking capacity and decipher what is helpful and what is useless to the task at hand, we need to regulate our breathing and bring our heart rate down. Whether it’s an unexploded bomb in your hands or a potentially costly business proposal, the brain’s approach to decision-making is the same – and the solution is, too.

Managing pressure, achieving goals and sustaining performanceOlympic gold medallist Adrian Moorhouse MBE believes psychology is crucial to creating high-performing teams. The former swimmer is Managing Director of Lane4, a performance consultancy that helps firms build competitive advantage through individual and team development. Apart from being pretty darn good at swimming 100m breaststroke, Moorhouse had to exhibit discipline to train hard, set goals and react to feedback. The last two in particular will certainly resonate with high achievers in the financial world.

Get out of your comfort zoneThe arts and financial services seem an unlikely pairing, but Sheila Chawla, Account Manager at the National Theatre’s Theatreworks maintains that theatre workshops equip delegates with essential business skills. “We find that people from a traditional business background benefit enormously from getting out of their comfort zone,” she says. “It is not about teaching people how to act, but about finding an authentic way to communicate using your own skills and personality. We don’t ask people to pretend to be a tree or anything like that, but we do ask them to try things that are different from what they are used to. It’s quite a journey, and people get a lot out of it.” 

Look beyond the obviousAnother unlikely bedfellow to the world of finance is cartooning. Amusing pictures may not commonly feature in financial services. But Chris Shipton, a cartoonist and illustrator, points out that in a culture where time is utterly precious and meetings must have a clear purpose, keeping high-level professionals engaged is paramount, and drawing can do just that. “Having a cartoonist draw your meetings as they happen makes them less dull affairs. Also, it’s fun, and it helps people tap into their own sense of creativity,” he says. “People often express surprise when I start drawing, but engage more as the day goes on. When they get their own pens out and start drawing too, I know it's working.”

Chris is pictured above in front of one of his graphic commentaries.The original version of this article was published in the March 2015 print edition of the Review.
Published: 30 Mar 2015
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