“And if we can explore… get back in touch with ourselves, the environment, the world around us and other people, because we’re not worried about all this other stuff, that’s the opportunity of human optimization.”– Andy Walshe
Andy Walshe talks with Commander Divine about the future of sport, technology and the importance of creativity in truly great performers. Andy started off coaching surfers in Australia and is currently the Director of High Performance at Red Bull. He has a variety of insights to share on the evolution of extreme sport and the increasing place for technology. In his opinion, the difference between good and exceptional in performance is the human factor, and technology just frees us up to enhance our passionate pursuit of our goals. How will you be able to bring his insights into your own training and practices?
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Transcript & Shownotes
Hey folks, Commander Mark Divine coming at you with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thank you so much for coming back, and supporting us and listening and soaking up all this really cool insight. And today we’re going to be talking to my friend Doctor Andy Walshe who is director of Human Performance at Red Bull. What an interesting, interesting job. Andy thanks for joining us. Super-appreciate your time today, I know you’re really busy.
But before I more formally introduce Andy, let me remind you please to go to iTunes and rate the podcast. It’s very helpful, ’cause that way folks who’ve never heard of us can find when they search for other people, like Tim Ferris or other leaders in performance and training and that type of stuff.
So any rate, that would be very helpful, and also remember to support our sponsors.
So Andy, who I just met recently is a global leader in human performance. Like I mentioned, he’s the Director of High Performance at Red Bull. There he works with tons of elite athletes and teams and other leaders in this field. And he supervises a team of scientists, engineers, physicians and technologists to kind of develop elite performance models and define intersections with technologies and platforms, for ways to bring performance more toward the masses, I think, right? So, yeah, I think that we’re going to have a really interesting discussion. Andy, thank you very much for your time.
Before we get into… like, you and I want to go right to talking about human performance and technology and hacking creativity, but let’s learn a little bit more about who you are. You’re Australian by birth, right?
Andy Walshe: Yeah, yeah. Born and bred in Australia. On the east coast, there. So that started off my career down under, and then was lucky enough to come to the States in ’99 to head up a program for the US winter Olympic program for Ski and snowboarding. I’ve been in the States ever since.
Mark: Now how did you get involved in coaching skiers and snowboarders down in Australia?
Andy: Well, what happened originally was I was working with elite athletes as part of a national campaign. Sort of the preparation for Sydney Olympics… way back. And then I was lucky enough and fortunate enough… I was living on the north coast of New South Wales, place called Barham Bay, which is a beautiful surf spot. We just started training surfers and surf life-savers, and windsurfers. And we had a nice little community of athletes rolling along in those sort of action sports genres. I was combining some of the Olympic preparation with his community that wasn’t that engaged or…at that point wasn’t that engaged or involved in those techniques.
And lo and behold, after ’92 Olympics in Barcelona and in that period following, there was this interest in sort of translational… in the winter programs, snowboard coming to the forefront so board sports started to get engaged. And they just said, “Hey, you’ve been working with surfers. What about snowboarders?”
(laughing) So I started working with them… as you do, you just start working with them and learn as you go. And at a certain point I just started working with the Australian national team, and then I bumped into some American coaches when we were on tour in Europe, and they said, “Wow, that sounds like fun. Why don’t we try that over here?” And I got a call. It was that simple.
Mark: That’s the way things work. So what type of techniques were you using back then with the surfers and snowboarders? What were you having success with?
Andy: Well way back then I think the simple model was… I was really lucky to sit and learn from some great performance people in Australia, who were already engaged in our big three: swimming, rowing, and the rugby programs. And the cricket. Sort of the national sports of Australia.
Australian Olympic training[4:32]
And so they had developed through the Australian government… the Australian institute of sport program, which was fundamentally a replication of the eastern model… the eastern European model… East German model, where you don’t have very many athletes. I think Australia’s population was about 20 million back then. And we want to compete really, really well at the Olympic stage as a country. It’s kind of passion of Australians. So they said, “Well, let’s… we don’t have a lot of resources. Let’s aggregate all the best talent at the institute in Canberra and then let’s provide this… like almost 3 to 1 at that point scientific training, recovery support system around them.” So that system was pretty advanced with respect to the Olympic movement. Rolling over to sports that hadn’t been that engaged in that sort of high-level, formal, scientific sort of training. At that point surfing hadn’t sort of made that leap. It was like, “Let’s just bring little pieces of that across.”
So the techniques and tools were things like just a little bit more organization around structure of training. Different approaches to training. And I did a very short stint in the military, nothing to speak of, but some of the techniques we learned about team and leadership, let’s bring some of that in. So we started to build those connections to the military communities. And really in the early days it was just applying some of the science that we’re learned from these sports, at the same time paying close attention to what was really important to them. Which was this freedom of expression, and unstructured environments. You’re not trying to crush them with this science. And at the same time modifying what they were doing a little bit so that within their world we were able to get some incremental gains.
So it was a combination of a little bit more of the scientific piece, but recognizing this extraordinary way they learn and develop in their own way. And the environment is a teacher. So how do we accentuate the environment, giving them the lessons they need? You know, the classic example I use is you’ve got these guys performing in staggeringly tough environments… life and death in some cases, in the big wave community. Never had a coach, never had a trainer, never had a nutritionist. And so they had gotten good without us, what the hell were we doing? So it was a real point of reflection for me as well.
Mark: That’s a fascinating insight. You’re right. I mean that’s all just trial and error, and the human being’s ability to just learn from it’s environment. And own intuitive skills, like some of these big wave surfers. That’s pretty extraordinary.
But like you said, if you can bring some discipline to their training and nutrition and sleep and recovery then it can make a big difference, right?
And so you came to the United States and then how did this… how did the relationship with Red Bull come about? How long have you been working with them?
US Olympic training and Red Bull[7:16]
Andy: So I did about ten years with the US ski and snowboard, sort of building the human performance program there, and I got a call from Red Bull. So the translation was bringing the same sort of experience I had on top of all the deep experience that already existed in the US Olympic movement, and then it was just a shift in perspective, the Aussie accent allowed me to get away with a bit more than the others. And together we built the program at ski and snowboard. We got really deep into the science there and the technologies, which was really exciting.
And when Red Bull… I was working with couple of Red Bull athletes at that time, and I think word got around within the Red Bull community that we had this sort of program running, and they said, “We’d like to do that for Red Bull.” So I just got another call and they said, “Hey, would you build a program like that for us?” And for me it was like coming home a bit, because at that point action sports is kind of where I’d started. So I’d go on more pure Olumpic and professional sports during that 10 year period. And I was like, “All right, let’s go back.” And again revisiting that idea that the environment had taught these individuals veverything they need to know. That they were excelling at the top of their game across these extraordinarily…
Mark: What type of sports does Red Bull sponsor, and involve themselves?
Andy: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think we’re in 167 different sports.
Andy: Yeah, so there’s about a thousand athletes in the portfolio globally. So at any given time you’re going to be asked to work with a program that you’ve never had any experience with . So one of the things we basically do is sit down with the… spend a lot of time learning and listening from these communities and understanding how they got good. And then seeing if we can add something from our side, so just even reuse that with another group.
Mark: Yeah. What are some of the most interesting athletic endeavors that you’ve been involved with at Red Bull?
Andy: Oh, wow. Well I think… oh God, there’s a lot. From the early days, was sort of building up a sort of Olympic quality program for surfing. That was one where we really brought in a lot of coaching, and science, and started really frame up a nice model for them. And at the same time keep the essence of the sport alive. Going through the different years, some of the big event like Robbie Maddison’s Arc de Triomphe jump in Las Vegas, Travis jumping the cars, there’s a lot of Olympic programs running, there’s also… the Stratos jump was a fun one. There’s…
Mark: All sorts of stuff there.
Andy: Yeah. Really varied.
Mark: So let’s talk about the Stratos jump. That was a Felix Baumgartner, did I say his name right? Felix Baumgartner? So he set the world record for the highest parachute jump ever, right? Has that been broken since he did it?
Andy: Yeah, an executive from Google went up and popped it by another 10,000 feet I think…
Mark: (laughing) No shit.
Andy: Yeah, so it’s… I think he actually… Colonel Joseph Kittenger started that sport in 1960. We broke a record in 2012, and then they popped it again. So I think it’s kind of becoming something cool to do, nowadays.
Mark: So with Felix, what were the things that were really critical from a performance standpoint to really dial in for him. I mean, if you’re going up to the stratosphere and jumping out of a frickin’ balloon. I mean, that’s pretty hairy.
Andy: Yeah, I think Felix was one of the fundamental things was the generic stuff was the overall… his role and identity within this program. I think one of the fundamental steps was just him coming from a base jumping background and some skydiving background. He fundamentally was engaged with a flight test program. 2 or 3 hundred experts in NASA, Air Force, military. Working on this big program with lots of people, and I think in the early stages that was a challenge for him to define his role as a leader in that.
And then we used Mike Gervais, a psychologist to help overcome some fears he developed around… actually the claustrophobia within the suit, which he spoke about. So yeah we’re moving from that and then fundamentally just his own physical performance. Just getting him used to sort of training slightly differently because those pressure suits are tough to move around in. They’re really challenging. It’s sort of a… it’s not shown in all the space movies how hard it is to actually articulate and move within a pressure suit.
Mark: Oh, I bet. They make it look easy. Like it’s just a wetsuit or something.
Andy: Yeah, so he just even moving around in that thing he had to work on a different set of sort of core training strength and conditioning training. And then an interesting thing was the classic sort of stress inoculation work. Getting him physically fatigued, working hard intervals, that sort of thing, and then asking him to repeat emergency egress procedures. You know, that kind of stuff. That sort of stuff the military is…
Mark: Repetition type stuff.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. Ramping up the stress of the training and then asking him to be very composed and solve more cognitive based problems, whether they be egress like I said, or in case of fire, what’s your standard operating procedure. And those sort of combination training really was where he ended up. So it was good.
And then, you know, the big team picture. This entire organization. The flight tests. You’ve got Red Bull, you’ve got Felix, just that whole dynamics of the community working together on one goal was a big part of it all, our focus as well.
Mark: Wow. Well that sounds like a lot of fun. To work on a project like that, was that just one of several projects you had going on, or was that like a consuming, full-time thing?
Andy: It was consuming, but as always here, there were multiple things happening at the same time, so you’re always balancing it. You’re flying out to Roswell where we’re doing the testing. Working out there, then coming back here and working on the next Olympic snow program, whatever it may be. So it was always a balance.
Passion and motivation[13:30]
Mark: So Andy, with all these different athletes and programs you’ve worked with, can you tell us if you’ve like been able to distill some fundamental principles of peak performance that cross all domains, all athletic domains, and that elite performers kind of have these specific… or leverage these specific skills or characteristics?
Andy: Yeah, it’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) Right, I know. I’ve got my pen handy.
Andy: (laughing) Right. If I say something intelligent, send it back to me. The reality, I think, is that the fundamental thing–and it’s not a cop-out–I think for me is the passion. And I keep coming back to it because if everything else seems to be… the individual seems to find a way to manifest themselves and what they bring to the table, and do things that are surprising. And when we do pretty rigorous evaluations, scientifically, qualitatively, interview style across our to performers. And review high stakes environments. We get a plethora of answers of how they got there. And the data shows that there’s a baseline to be good, but then to be extraordinary, we can’t predict past that point. So we can get you from good to great, so to speak. That is some basic markers there. But once we get from great to extraordinary, there seems to be no model. But if you come back to passion, what does passion do for you?
First and foremost, 10,000 hours or 20,000 hours or 100,000 hours of practice, whatever that number you want to believe in, will drive you crazy. And you’ll only get up in the morning in the dark to do that training if you love what you do. I think on the easy, sunny days they’ll do the work, it’s when it’s miserable and raining and horrible you still get out the door, and that requires passion.
Mark: Yeah, we used to say, everyone wants to be a frogman on a sunny day.
Andy: Absolutely. And I think unless you love what you’re doing, unless you truly, truly enjoy that, it’s hard to get up, when it gets tough. When you fall when it gets tough it’s hard to stand back up, unless you’re passionate about what you’re doing. So I think the passion then allows you to manifest these skills that we see, like hardiness, and courage, and resilience. Whatever you want to call those other factors. And I think that’s the core piece of it.
How useful is that to people? I don’t know. Then we get into the more fundamental skills, their critical decision making under high-stakes, their ability to be gentle with themselves. Take lessons. They understand intrinsic value of failing. Putting themselves out there and falling short. Learning. That value proposition versus “Oh shit, I made a mistake.” I think the general sense of empathy and really humility that they demonstrate at the top of the game. And you know, I’m not saying… they’re not all Buddhist monks by any sense of the matter. But they know when they’re on it, what they need to do, and they do it well. And they don’t look for external validation of that. I think that’s an important part of it.
And, you know, I think those are the fundamental characteristics that we see. And I think our version of that is then, “How do we make you better at who you are?” To allow you to be better at what you do.
Character and motivation[17:07]
Mark: Yeah, I love that. That’s very similar to the message that I try to teach, and that performance stems from depth of character. So build the character, and then go out and perform. And I agree with you that passion is so important. And one of the things that I’ve been struggling with, and I think the answer is both. But do you think, with the athletes you’ve worked with, are they like… so they immediately find a passion for their sport? Or does that passion develop as a result of long years of success, or struggle and success with a sport? Do some of these athletes wake up when they’re 5 years old and say, “I’m going to be a surfer. It’s the only thing I wanna do in my life. And I’m going to surf the big waves of Hawaii?” Or do they start surfing, the little waves in Coronado, and next thing you know, 8 years later, they’re like, “You know what? I really like this. I’m developing a passion for it.” It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?
Andy: Yeah, and I’ve seen it all. Honestly. I’ve seen the kids who put the poster up when they’re 5, and that’s them. And they love it. And that, at that age you see them… I remember a youngster who became world class. Hearing his mum say, “No matter how lousy a day it was, every day he would be out there. He just loved it.” No one else in the water. It could be raining, horrible. Crappy conditions, and he would be out there. And then that kid went on and that was his dream.
I think at the same time, they’re are people who in some cases seem very talented across a portfolio of things. School, multiple sports, and they just find that, “This one is the one I’m good at.” And, you know, they find that they get positive reinforcement for being good at that. And I think they start, “Well this is great. Being good at something is really fun.” And then they just say, “Wow.” And then they grow and they develop within that framework.
Mark (laughing) Fake it ’til you make it, right?
Andy: Yeah. And then of course you see the other side which is… the classic example is that everyone knows is Andre Agassi, who hated it at the end.
Mark: Yeah, interesting. They get burn out.
Andy: If you read his book he hated tennis.
Mark: No kidding.
Andy: Yeah. And I think… and then there’s multiple occasions where we’ve interviewed athletes after the biggest moment in their career, or posted a World record, or Olympics or whatever, and they’re like, “You know, it was great. I loved it. But thank God it’s over.”
Mark: (laughing) Right. Aim for something new.
Andy: Yeah. And you know, fair enough too. I completely sat on the fence on that one, but, you know, someone else has to figure that one out for us.
Mark: (laughing) That’s fascinating. It really is interesting. I think the lesson there… take this to normal, everyday person is: Great, good on you if you find you have a passion to be a doctor, lawyer, Navy SEAL. Awesome. Run with it.
But if you don’t have that then choose something you’re good at, do it well, act as if your hair is on fire everyday and develop a passion for it as best you can. Or at least for an expertise within that domain, and I think that that works as well. And it sounds like the Red Bull athletes had that.
Andy: Yeah. I think if you’re good at something, even if it’s not the pure passion that burns you alive… if you’re good at it, you get the success and recognition which again allows you to get through the tough times. And you feel like go something.
For instance, if you suck at it and then you hit a wall, you’re like, “What the hell am I doing?”
Mark: Yeah. Well and ultimately that… what we’re talking about is psychology, mental and emotional management really, ’cause that’s… passion is going to keep you positive and with forward momentum, and you’re going to be thinking and feeling energetically positive toward your performance, toward your sport. One of the things we say at SEALfit is negativity destroys performance, ’cause we feel that at a team level and as an individual. So if you’re passionate, then like you said, all else being equal, if you’re dealing with a lot of elite athletes, like we were in the SEAL teams. Everyone’s an elite athlete. Everyone’s eating well. Everyone’s training their asses off. Everyone’s supported by an amazing system. But the top performers were the ones that were most passionate. Like you said. Because they’re energetically positive, and they go into every intense mission with a smile on their face, even though someone’s throwing rounds at them. It’s crazy.
Andy: I think you’re right. And if you don’t have that, if you haven’t found a passion, that’s not to say it’s the end of the world. It’s just the opportunity to, hey, explore.
Mark: Keep exploring, yeah.
Andy: Keep just trying stuff, and, you know, maybe you never really get that thing that want to set the world on fire with, but that exploration it’s a real life learning experience.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Red Bull’s kind of on the… as a sponsor and promoter, you’re kind of on the edge of extreme sports. What are some of the more interesting emergent sports that you see coming out? Like, I’m having a podcast with my friend Andy Stumpf later in the week, and he just set the record in wingsuit flying. I mean, I’ve done a lot of parachute jumps, but I’ve never done a wingsuit flight. But that just looks insane. In fact, I saw a video recently and it was like… there was no dialogue in this video but it was like this mass wingsuit jump somewhere in France, a really famous place. And the red guy went off, and then the green and then the blue, and then the black… you know, 12 guys jumped on the same route. And the camera guy was last. And they’re flying down and all of a sudden he just flies over the blue guy, who was crash landed. D-E-D, dead. And I was like, “Holy Cow! That’s an intense sport.” 13 men enter, 12 men exit, right? Oh my God.
Andy: Yeah, I think that’s what we see so much of here. And as you know, those sports when they’re in their beginning, their infancy, there’s a lot of trial and error. And you’re in a high-stakes environment, and one of the challenges in that sport is… it looks like you’re flying but you’re not, you’re falling.
Mark: You’re falling and you’re in some cases you’re feet from the earth.
Andy: Yeah, yeah. And you just… and a slight miscalculation can be catastrophic. Yeah, we love all that stuff, I think it’s fascinating.
What’s really got me sort of interested in the past few years is the sports that are not in front of us yet. The one’s that are currently… where you see this connection between technologies and interest and passion. Designing these new sports that are sort of going to be in the forefront in the next few years.
Mark: Yeah, like hoverboard surfing. (laughing)
Andy: Hoverboard surfing, or even the E-sports community, what’s happening there or this sort of human… I saw a virtual reality setup recently where it looked literally like man-on-man Tron. You remember that?
Mark: Yeah, okay.
Andy: And you were actually catching disks, and throwing them, and dodging around. And I was like, “Holy hell.” So what I’ve been really trying to think about and about communities is what is that future state of human performance look like. And partially that’s going to be driven by what’s the future state of sports going to look like.
And you think it’s going to be as dramatic, from what we can see, as an example someone shared with me recently… I’m stealing their thunder… but they said–maybe it was you–before we had the Olympics and it was just track and field. And then someone invented a bike. Now we have cycling in the Olympics. It’s going to be like that.
Mark: Yeah. You’re talking about, like, augmented athletes?
Human augmentation and augmented environments[24:44]
Andy: Augmented environments. Human augmentation with human robotics. Cyborg kind of frameworks. I mean, people are working on systems that are just going to increase human capacity ten-fold, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. That will happen, so what do those sports look like…
Mark: Yeah, it’s interesting. And you’re going to have the purists who say, “We don’t allow augmentation by blood doping or steroids, so it’s not fair to have some sort of robotic device connected to the artificial cloud. But then of course, people will experiment and those sports will develop. They may not make it into the Olympics right away, but eventually…
Andy: Well, there’s a great program… I don’t have name right I don’t think… It’s called the Cyborg Olympics, and it’s a pro… and it’s held like an Olympic event or around an Olympic event to be… someone can fact-check me on all that. But the concept as it was explained to me is, yeah, these extraordinary groups around the world working in human robotics, and human prostheses development, getting together and having a human/machine… an overall prosthetics. So if you have a fast set of robotic legs because you’re a double amputee, then you compete in these events and it’s basically a competition between not only the people but the teams of roboticists. And what’s that going to do? Well, it’s going to be fun to watch and extraordinary to sort of see the progression, but it’s going to pioneer the space of human/artificial augmentation and prosthesis development. So that’s going to drive a whole next generation of artificial limbs for people who have been unfortunate to lose a limb, as an example. So I think even if the purists say the Olympics should always stay where it’s at, there’s going to be these emergent programs, which allow us to not only benefit people, but also have an entertainment value. And the technology is going to drive a lot of that, and that’s exciting for me to see. Anything to do to move our industry forward, to help people navigate better. Who were unfortunate to have an accident like that.
Mark: In a way, it’s not really much different than the scientists building the fastest human powered bicycle or automobile, and then the nut who’s crazy enough to drive it is the athlete. So that’s a merging of technology and human performance. So they’re just getting a little bit closer. You know, like where the technology’s not being bolted human as opposed to the human stepping into the car, you know what I mean?
Andy: Yeah, yeah. And I think when Oscar Pistorius competed in the Olympics with these prosthetic legs, the challenge was absolutely letting someone… being open at the Olympics to let anyone compete. The challenge, and the door that I think was opened then was no one really–unless you’re close to sport–thought through was, ” Oh wow. What is the leg is better than a normal leg?”
Which is a fantastic problem to have. In sport, where you’ve got rules, you’re like, “this is a bit of a dilemma.” I don’t think it’s an issue. It’ll sort itself out.
Mark: I don’t think we’ll have anyone cutting off their legs so they can wear a prosthetic, though. Not that was ever considered as a possibility.
Andy: Well, you know, if the legs are better, and you’ve gotta go in for a knee replacement when you’re 70, and well actually the legs you have are going to be… you’ll be running again. Why not take the whole thing, and strap on a new one? I tell you what, humans never fail to surprise me with what they’re willing to do, so I’m going to sit back and watch.
Mark: I know, right. It’s gonna be a fun ride, that’s for sure.
Creativity and training[29:38]
Mark: Let’s talk about something more down to earth and that is hacking creativity. What does that mean to you? How do we hack creativity and unlock more traditional concepts of human potential from the inner domain, you know, vision, passion, just energy. Working with energy like, how do we tap into the level of energy that Bruce Lee had? Or that a Taoist master has for everyday sportspeople?
Andy: Yeah, you know, that was the essence of the process and the project, which is still live, hackingcreativity.com. You can go and see the prototype of it. But if you think about models and performance, no matter who you are, you either have one formally, or you have one in your head.
But the idea that there’s a physical breakdowns and the more psychological, spiritual and emotional breakdowns. And what we’ve seen in the business in the last 20 odd years, we’ve really gotten a lot better at what we can measure. So the wearables, and the technologies and the heart-rate variability–all these things that you strap on and you kind of look at now. And its great information, and it’s provided a lot of great insight into how to improve performance.
Two things happened in the process of watching these athletes sort of organically get to become as good as they get in the program here, and also thinking about those elements of performance we see captured in say you’re SEAL team ethos, or written above the locker rooms. You talk to the top performers in the country, those frameworks like courage and discipline, and heart. Hardiness or grit–whatever you want to call it–are the things that they rate as the most important. Character, essentially.
So we thought about those two fundamental issues. If the best in the world redefine what’s possible in the game, or in the sport, or in the military or any aspect of life, they are showing us what’s possible. Those ground-breaking people at the top of the field redefine what’s possible in that particular sport or field. So by default they’re creative.
Now typically we only think of the cultural communities, arts as the creative ones, but in this context everyone has a creative instinct.
Then you think about the idea that, why does everyone put these things above the locker room? Or in the ethos? Or in the mantra that they quote as being critical to this organization or team. And that lead us to the idea that, “Okay, creativity as a construct is a powerful tool for the very, very top performers.” But we’re not actually training it per se. Can we put a model around creativity, or construct around creativity that allows us to put some framework that would then allow us to train against it. It’s not an answer to what creativity is, to be clear. No, it’s just to have a conversation around the topic, see what insights we can get, and see if there’s something there that we can say, “Hey, we have our elite athletes coming in next week. We’re going to do a creativity session with them.” For want of a better word.
At the same time, if we can get that model working around something as abstract as creativity, then let’s just rip creativity out and put character in there. How to measure, construct, put a model around character. And not to say people aren’t already doing this, but we just wanted to see if we could kind of bring this together using some of the new technology. So what we did was is say, “Take creativity as a construct. let’s go and get the machine, so a computer to read all the research on creativity.” And specifically the process of training creativity. And so we aggregated about 15,000 articles, and the machine organized them and structured according to some basic AI deep learning models, and that sits there on the hackingcreativity.com platform.
At the same time, we know that research only gets you so far. You’ve got to talk to the practitioners, so let’s interview 500 people who are considered to be highly creative and again, not just painters and artists, but military leaders, social workers, policy makers, scientists, artists, of course, musicians. And use that same algorithmic intelligence that we used to organize the literature, and apply that to the structure of their interview.
So you’ve got… basically you’ve got the research piece, being organized by the machine. Now we’ve got the what we call the expert intelligence being organized. What you can do on that platform is you can participate yourself. So let’s get the world to weigh in now. What’s the groupthink on this topic?
And the idea is you then bring those 3 versions or definitions, conversations of creativity together and what’s that insight you get in the middle? And so that program’s been running for about 3 years. It’s still… we’re learning all sorts of things and we do train creative processes with our elite talents. It’s something we’ve always been doing, but now we’re like, “How do we make it more structured, and once we have structure can we progress it?”
Mark: So when I push the button, what comes out?
Andy: Well, basically the end game that we’d like to have… if we can get to where we want to be is we first and foremost, we break down some common myths about creativity, like, “Hey, I’m not creative. I don’t paint.” You figure out a different way to approach a mission objective. You figure out a different way to perform a trick in a judged sport. You figure out a different way to train so you run faster in the 100 meters.
Mark: I’m with you. Some of the most creative guys I’ve ever seen were SEALS who were like the epitome of McGyver, I mean they could fix or solve anything, anywhere with any thing.
Andy: And so I think we do a good job in these elite communities of selecting for it, but you don’t sit down and say… And you do problem solving challenges, but you don’t… let’s train the element of creativity. So that’s element we want out of it.
The other element is to say, “Hey, if we can get communities of people together…” And we don’t just work with athletes here. We have musicians and artists potentially now e-sports , etc. in our program. What can we offer elite talent in non-athletic domains? Innovation, we swap for creativity. Problem solving, you can swap that for creativity. Those things are powerful tools that we want to bring across to those communities as well. And then of course, that translates across into the business communities that we work with, entrepreneurs. Innovation’s a hot topic. Can we train you, accordingly in some of these techniques and strategies we’ve learnt that others have used? Is there an opportunity there?
And one thing we have learned is that there’s these extraordinary creatives across all these portfolios, and they all do it very differently. Same models that we see in physicality.
I think people fall into the trap of the top 5 creative habits of highly creative people sort of thing. “I don’t have them. I should do them.” And it’s like, “Well, hell no.” That’s one way. You do it your way.
And I think if summarize all these conversations, it seems to point to this notion which is in my terms my world really exciting. We’ve always known that the individualized and personal approach is the way to go with the best talent in the world. It’s just a resource issue to put that kind of structure around people. But now technology’s enabling personalized solutions on scale. And so now you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. You can map your own trajectory. And you can become master of your destiny. And if we can give you some fundamental tools, and lessons from all these other people. And then you charge ahead with the conviction that you’ve got what you need, but you’re also going to have to figure out a bit on your own. I think we start to get into this real idea of democratizing talent, such that it’ll make a bigger impact.
Personalized training and nutrition[37:31]
Mark: I think that’s terrific, and I know… I agree with you, it’s going to be a huge area for the young technologist, and young athletes to start to experiment with personalized nutrition. We saw Michael Phelps use a sleep monitor, a variable heart rate monitors, and all these quantified self stuff. I worked a little bit with the women’s cycling team at the last summer Olympics, and they got a silver medal like completely out of the blue. They beat UK in the velodrome. And they were like early pioneers in using the quantified self, and really dialing in their sleep and their nutrition. I always helped them at a team level kind of organize themselves to be more effective. And boom, you know, it was like this complete, out of left field, silver medal win. So I think you’re right, it’s fascinating what’s going to happen when we have personalized… a device that can tell us, with a pin prick, what food we need for our optimal path to performance. And how far away do you think we are from that?
Andy: I think it’s already, in many cases, a lot of the optimization on an individual level is there. You just gotta cut through the clutter. So I think the knowledge to do this actually exists. I think the applications are 3 to 5 years away in terms of some of the software platforms and hardware necessary. Especially as you get into more the brain stuff.
But I think what’s so exciting is that if this idea of what works for you is the essential version of what we’ve identified as a key characteristic of an elite performer, you don’t fall into this trap of, “What are they doing? I’m going to do that?” Because if you do that is the fundamental issue is you’re following. If you’re following the best in the world, you’re still following.
Mark: (laughing) Yeah, you’re still behind them.
Andy: You’re still behind them, and they’re loving that because they just keep pioneering. So you begin to bring this idea of your own self exploration, and then using what we kind of see as a general trend, as a foundation. Let’s not ignore what’s out there. but then , having the ability to think about your own path and trajectory. And like you said, your own development, whatever that may take for you being the driving force. You apply these lessons where they may work. And if they don’t work, you’ll see straight away. And that way again I think we get to this state where if it worked for Michael, great, wonderful, good that it worked for him. You look at that and go, “I’ll take that on board, but I’ll also look across here to these other performers in other communities, and I’ll draw from them. And then I’ll build my model and…” As I said, unfortunately in the past it’s taken teams of people to do that. But that’s the breakthroughs that we’ll see in the next 3 to 5 years, when that’ll be possible.
Mark: Yeah, when your coach is an artificial intelligence cloud-based agent, that gets to know you better than any team of coaches ever could. And is able to guide… help you tap your own intuitive because it’s giving you real-time feedback.
So you were recently at MIT having conversations about these types of things with some young, big brain, technophiles. What interesting things came out of that discussion?
Andy: Well, again, I think from my perspective whether it’s the MITs of the world, or all these other extraordinary communities we get to sort of work with, I think the future’s in good hands, first and foremost. There’s some bright young people out there.
Mark: (laughing) That’s good to hear. ‘Cause if you read the newspaper, you’d think otherwise.
Andy. Yeah, yeah, I know. I think there may be a bit more of a rough spot, but I think ultimately, at some point, these kids are staggering what they’re doing nowadays. For me, it was challenging them. I say, “I do, I wanna see. What is it going to take for us to build an artificial coach? What are the… I mean, the technologies are there, but how do we manifest it. What are some of the problems we can solve. And I think some of the things we’re seeing right now is… and hacking creativity is a proxy for some of that AI coaching. If the machine and it can already basically see better than we see. If it’s in your car it can project and take in more than you take, and if it’s in a VR or empathetic environment, it can read your microexpressions, your facial expressions as well if not better than we can. And that’s an argument, cause a lot of that’s unconscious.
Technology, computers and spirituality[41:53]
But think about that model. The machine suddenly has access to all the training tips and training drills that you’re going to potentially use as a coach. And you don’t have to remember any of that anymore. You can actually go through and if it’s nutrition, it can cut through the crap, peel out the important, research-based findings and apply that to you because it knows your blood and your genotype, whatever it may be, or gut biome. And then at the same time, it can tell you how that person is doing in a day. It can look at you and say, “Hey they’re struggling.” That’s what a great coach already does, but it’s hard. It’s hard to get to that level unless you focus. So if we can push that over to the artificial platform, what does that leave for us? Well, I think it allows us to focus on being more human. It allows us to focus on those things that make us more human. So the creativity, the empathizing, the personal growth that we can show to ourselves and also to others. ‘Cause we all have the opportunity to… that’s where we can spend our time, and that’s the piece that the AI can’t catch up with yet. And won’t as I understand for a long time.
So this whole having these conversations with all these groups are, what’s this future state looking like? What are we going to have to do to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what we need to do to optimize people. I think the opportunities are staggering, but there’s going to be some interesting sociological and human/machine evolution based problems that we’re going to have to have tough conversations about. Because it’s going to be a staggering change, and rate of change. And I think it’s hard to gut check in all the excitement.
Mark: Yeah, for sure. And it’s coming fast. I love what you said, though. I love this notion that the technology can free us up from some of the industrial-age mechanistic processes around coaching, training, even just everyday life. And to help us be more human. What that means to me is something that we’ve been working on here at SEALfit is the whole emotional world. Like, how do we feel more? How do we understand our emotional life more? How do we use those emotions for power and performance? How do we avoid denigrating emotions? And there’s not much language or work around this in the West. And to me, when we talk about passion, it’s emotionality brought to your external world. And if technology can kind of like take care of the some of the fundamental stuff, and help us feel healthy and optimal every day because our sleep is dialed in, our nutrition is dialed in, we’re kind of in balance because our artificial coach is helping us get there. Then that’s going to allow us to go deeper on the emotional level. And I think, you know, if I were to take a spiritual spin on this, one of the possible… spiritual leaders say that we’re here to learn lessons. And we learn those lessons, not cognitively, but emotionally. And so the reason we’re human is largely because we can feel. We can feel at a deep level and create meaning through that feeling. Now that’s a little esoteric, but bringing it back to performance, if you have a deep feeling of success and power and meaning around your performance. And the technology has allowed to stay with that feeling and cultivate it and grow it, so that you can carry it and hold it through your performance. Wow, you know. That’s when you get new layers of passion.
Andy: Yeah, I agree 300%. I mean, spirituality is one of the pillars of our program. Whether it’s fundamentally just ripping off the Eastern breathing techniques, or resetting, or refocusing, or, a deeper conversation, as you said, being more in touch with who you are. When the world, and the challenges of the machine growing and taking over a lot of jobs is going to create all sorts of interesting dilemmas for us to solve. But I actually see the positive side of it. I see, as you say, if it’s taking care of business, and we get an ability then to explore more of what it means to be human, then that’s a huge opportunity. And if we can explore again, get back in touch with ourselves, the environment, the world around us, and other people, because we’re not worried about all this other stuff, that’s the opportunity in human optimizations. I don’t see it as… I don’t see a machine, AI as being in that context a challenge. I see as being an opportunity. But of course, it’s not replacing my job right now, so I have that luxury.
Mark: (laughing) Good point.
Andy: That first world problem, you know? But I think that is where, if we can get that conversation elevated and we can focus on that, then what does that mean? If we can pass that down to the classroom… so if the machines, the device in your pocket knows everything. It’s already done. We gotta move, gotta figure out what are we teaching and training that community? You gotta ask the right question.And to know what the right question is is a much more complex dilemma to solve than tell me the capitals of the country. I don’t need to know that anymore, it’s in the book. And it’s with me all the time. I’m being very black and white here, but that’s the subtleties that I think even coaching and human optimization and all these worlds we work in and going to have to face is how do we take what’s possible now through the technology, but not lose sight of the fact that what it means to be human on this planet. And give us the free time to sit down and contemplate and reflect and all those things which the spiritual masters have known for thousands of years.
Mark: But people have been to busy, and too much survival mode to get it.
Andy: Yeah, we’ve been surviving. And we’re going through a state now just to rip off your platform a little bit. People are getting fed up with the constant connectedness and all the rest of it, and those challenges. And that’s, you know, the original performance masters, the spiritual leaders were developing strategies to help communities thrive, individuals thrive and survive and that’s our job in the future.
Mark: Right. Fantastic. Sounds like there’s a book there, man. I think you need to take a sabbatical and write that one.
Andy: (laughing) If I’d paid more attention in school in English, I could probably write one, but I’m not that guy. So I just get the luxury of meeting extraordinary people who’ve kind of mastered all these spaces, and the privilege to listen and learn from them, so…
Andy: That’s the wonder of it.
Mark: Well, thank you for doing that, and for doing what you do. You’ve got a blog, right? Where can people learn more about what you’re doing at Red Bull and your own work?
Andy: You know, I don’t actually. I tried that social thing…
Mark: It’s tough, isn’t it?
Andy: I literally had an account on Facebook at some point, and it stopped. The reality is I just don’t have time. I don’t know how people find the time to do this stuff. I think, you know, what we do is we’re very open. We allow anyone, at anytime with an interest in our field comes in here watching, looking…
Mark: Oh, no kidding. All right.
Andy: So, you know, don’t want to open the doors and have masses, not that that’s going to happen. But people are very… we find that by giving you get. And by opening our doors, the rest of the world in our industry opened theirs. And we get this great flow of people. People are super-passionate, there’s a bunch of clips being pushed out about what we do, but there’s always a chance to poke your head in here…
Mark: So Google Andy Walshe dot com?
Andy: Yeah, that was my business that I had running for many years as an adviser, but I’m too busy now to do that, so…
Mark: You need an assistant to keep it up for you. Just follow you around with a camera or something like that.
Andy: Oh I don’t know. I think that’s the wonderful thing now is if in the next few years we start to consolidate some of our learning and do get it out there in the right way, that’d be great.
Mark: Absolutely. Okay, well awesome. I super-appreciate your time Andy. I know everyone else who’s listening to this found it as fascinating as I did. Keep up the great work. Let’s stay in touch and keep the dialogue going. I think this is going to be a fascinating few years, and I’m right there with you. I think by 2020, 2021 or something like that, you’re going to see some really different and unique approaches to training and performance, integrating technology and artificial intelligence and robotics. It’s going to be fascinating. We’re going to have to strap on our seatbelts.
Andy: yeah, I think we’ll be the old guys standing on the sidelines wondering what’s next, but that’s good. That’s good. I’m quite looking forward to that.
Mark: Exactly. High-fiving the 20 year olds. But I already do that, when I try to train alongside the 18 year old, 19 year old SEAL candidates and I’m like, “Yeah, I can hang.” And then I’m like, “Unh, no I can’t.”
Andy: (laughing) That’s all right.
Mark: I can do what I can do but let them have their day. Awesome Andy. Well thank you very much. Everybody, if you want to learn more about Andy and Red Bull, Google him. And we’ll keep encouraging him to write the book someday.
And remember to rate the podcast and of course, most importantly, stay focused, train hard, do the daily work, tap into that creative energy and fire up your passion every day.
Talk to you soon.
Coach Divine out.