Andy Walshe
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Interview with Andy Walshe at Redbull High Performance: Hacking Extreme Creativity

What is a sport? The answer to that question used to be clear for Americans: Football, baseball, and basketball. But today the definition of sports is less clear. People are watching professional players play games like League of Legends. Ultimate Frisbee is being recognized by the Olympics. Felix Baumgartner is jumping from the edge of space as a sport. While football, baseball, and basketball are traditional sports that are here to stay, the Red Bull High Performance global athletes development program is taking a broad view of what it means to be an athlete and what it means to win and exploring that in a campaign they call “Hacking Creativity.” Dr. Andy Walshe, in charge of the campaign, has a Ph.D. in Applied Biomechanics and has worked with the US Olympic Ski and Snowboard teams. This week, Dr. Walshe will talk to us about how to get EXTREME and what makes athletes and artists alike.

What is your background and what drew you to exercise science? What are examples of people you worked with along the way?
I was always into sport and being from Australia (where sport is a way of life) there were great tertiary programs in sports, science and coaching that I was able to do as an undergraduate degree. In terms of the amazing people along the way, there are too many to mention here but I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to learn from so many talented people from so many diverse fields.

The Red Bull High Performance Program talks about “hacking creativity” and “hacking talent.” What does creativity have to do with athleticism and talent?
People at the top of their game regardless of profession, redefine the way in which their craft is seen…i.e. they redefine what’s possible in their chosen field. To this end, they are extraordinarily creative and they show us what is possible in their space!!!!!

How do you think people will be able to benefit from the research your group is doing on this topic? How will they be able to apply it in their lives or work?
We have a couple of big goals:

Firstly, dispel the old paradigm “I am not creative because I don’t paint” and in this regard help inform the conversation that everyone has creative potential. Recognizing this is a big opportunity.

Secondly, by looking at the myriad of ways in which people do create, we will hopefully spur the conversation around the opportunities to develop this as a discrete skill in and of itself.

What is the most unique problem you’ve had to solve?
With regards to “hacking talent” a profoundly difficult problem is to “measure what can’t be measured” as we say around the shop. One has to figure out ways to put some context (which hopefully leads to training outcomes) around all those important topics such as creativity, courage, resilience, humility, spirituality, integrity etc etc. These are equally as important in any conversation around an individual’s performance but they’re abstract by nature and so hard to frame up in a practical, developmental way.

Working in such a high stakes area where athletes can be injured or killed, what is your process for handling situations that don’t go as planned (e.g., people getting hurt)?
Training and preparation are the keys to this…of course things can and will go wrong but the aim is to put the individual’s safety as paramount. You also need to establish rigorous training and risk-profiling strategies and need to eliminate “to the extent it’s humanly possible” the opportunity for things to go wrong. In the end if you are going to push the limits of what is possible, it’s about taking calculated chances.

In your opinion, is human potential limitless or are there some extreme challenges that no amount of training could properly prepare someone for?
I am an optimist and so I don’t think there are any limits if you take the long term view…of course physical constraints aside as we know them now, who really can predict what form we will take both physically and psychologically in the next thousand years….I think humans will continue to redefine what’s possible as long as we keep evolving. I don’t see that nature has an end game in mind in this regard!!

How are “extraordinary people” similar and different from the rest of us?
I think at the fundamental level we are all more similar than we like to admit….be it by genetic advantage, circumstances or typically both it seems that some people are able to more fully explore the limits of their own potential……in some cases this shows us what’s possible at the limits of human achievement, in other cases it just gives us a better sense of ourselves.

If you were going to teach people how to hack creativity or talent, what 3 pieces of advice would you give to them?
Listen, watch and pay attention…everything we need to understand this question is right in front of us…..we just need to take the time to organize the extraordinary knowledge that already exists in the world and we can teach ourselves all we need to know!!!