What can a business coach learn from a snowboarder?

A short time ago, I interviewed the snowboarder Jussi Oksanen. Now, I know what you’re thinking:

Why would a business coach interview a snowboarder? 

Jussi Oksanen may be a snowboarding legend, but what on earth can he teach us about business?

Pretty much everything, as it turns out. 

In this post I’m going to share the wisdom that Jussi revealed during our video interview* – the art of reinvention, fear of failure, the power of resilience, goal setting, teamwork, the growth mindset… and how side hustles are the key to long-term career happiness.

The art of reinvention

In the snowboarding world, riders come and go faster than you can say `frontside five forty’. Yet Jussi managed to stay on top of his career for more than 17 years. 

How did he do it?

In short, reinvention – the ability to pivot, adapt and stretch yourself beyond perceived capabilities.

After representing Finland in the Winter Olympics and winning 7 X Games medals , Jussi became famous for jaw-dropping snowboarding videos. He also founded a flourishing business, Mizu, now a global brand.  And, if that weren’t enough for one person, Jussi has become a well-known professional photographer. 

What’s next?

He says that if you don’t constantly adapt and reinvent, two things will happen: 

  1. You’ll get bored
  2. Others will step in and take your place

When you’re running a business, neither are great. Together, they’re a disaster. 

To stay relevant, Jussi had to step outside his comfort zone over and over again. He kept asking himself the same question, one that we should all be asking as we grow our businesses:

What’s next? 

Fear of failure

“I’m jumping off this 70 foot jump, and there’s a chance that the landing is going to avalanche…. And OK, I think I know what I’m doing”.

As a career, snowboarding sounds like fun. What better way to spend your working day than on the slopes, surrounded by pure white snow, pulling awe-inspiring moves that make people gasp with admiration? 

Actually, here’s the thing about snowboarding:

Someone younger is right behind you, snapping at your heels… and they know more tricks than you do. Fear of failure is constant. 

Jussi had to keep learning new techniques – the exciting (and dangerous) tricks that younger snowboarders were perfecting. – and it was fear of failure which drove him forward.

He was in his early 30s, getting up at 4am to film videos high up in the mountains, trying to land terrifying jumps that nobody had hit before. 

When you’re in that situation, backing out is not an option. You have to commit, learn new ways of doing things and accept that you may fail.  It’s exactly the same in business – although for us, `failure’ doesn’t mean face-planting the snow from 30 feet up in the air. 

The power of resilience

We’ve all been there. Your motivation is on the floor, enthusiasm feels like a distant memory and you have the energy of a wet dishrag.

Like all of us, Jussi had highs and lows in his snowboarding career. So how did he handle the inevitable low moments? 

“Sometimes you fall 10 times in a row. You just have to get back up. It’s that determination to complete the task that keeps you going.”

In short, he just got back up. He used the falls as motivation to learn and improve. 

Each finished video was a defined mission, and he kept his focus on it constantly. That goal was his first and only priority – and this brings me on to… 

The importance of goals

“It was fundamental to my success to have a goal every year. Without goals, you’re just spinning around.”

Every snowboarding season, Jussi set himself one big goal. During the seasons where he didn’t set goals, he found himself spinning around without a sense of purpose. 

The ‘goal of the season’ translates perfectly into business – because once you set clear goals, amazing things start to happen:

  • You develop direction, determination and focus
  • You maintain motivation, especially during setbacks
  • Decision-making becomes easier
  • You notice opportunities… and grab them with both hands

But remember, this doesn’t have to be a solo effort. When Jussi was going all out to meet his goals, he shared that mission with a team.

Positive teamwork

You may rely on a talented and trustworthy team to keep your business running smoothly. For professional snowboarders, there’s a lot more at stake. 

In a remote mountain location, performing hair-raising stunts that can go wrong within a nanosecond, a good team will save your life.

“I knew these guys would have my back. Trust comes over time and without that, it wouldn’t have been sustainable.”

For every one of Jussi’s team members, a positive attitude was crucial. Negativity from an individual affects the whole crew dynamic and within seconds, a good day switches into a bad day.  

We can take this into the office. If one team member is consistently negative, don’t be afraid to call it out and reset the situation. A great team allows you to take more risks. If one person screws up, the team will have your back. 

The growth mindset… and the benefits of a side hustle

Actually, the growth mindset isn’t a single mindset. I see it as a combination of three: 

  1. A determination to achieve your goals
  2. Resilience to learn from failure 
  3. The wisdom of knowing when it’s time to stop and reset the goal

Jussi’s ability to adapt and learn allowed him to remain at the top for 17 years, and wisdom told him when it was time to stop. 

Did he mourn his old career? 

Not at all.  

“My head wasn’t in it any more, and I knew instantly. I’m out. We finished the season, filmed the video, drove home and then that was it. I was done.” 

He accepted the need for change with grace rather than regret. And besides, he’d thought ahead. He had side hustles. 

By now, Jussi had founded a small business, Mizu – a planet-friendly reusable drinkware company. No longer jumping off 30 foot cliffs meant he could spend time learning the logistics of business. 

There was a lot to learn – manufacturing, finance, supply chains, branding, marketing…  But through the focus and sheer determination from the snowboarding slopes, he’s helped transform Mizu into a global business. 

Do you have the capacity to do more?

For most of us, that would be enough. Jussi, however, had other ideas.

This is where photography came in. Since the age of 15, he’d never stopped taking photographs and using these skills, he developed another side hustle – branding photography. It has become a lucrative business.  

Was this easy? No. It took time to build a portfolio. and like the rest of us, he had moments of doubt. 

His success today as a photographer comes down to the qualities I’ve mentioned in this article – resilience, adaptability, acceptance and above all, a hunger for constant learning. There is a fundamental belief that however successful he becomes, there’s always more to learn. 

He’s still asking himself… What’s next? 

“Your mind says `That’s enough’, but you always have the capacity to do more.”

What’s next for you? For support to move forward in your business, get in touch with me here

And, if you’re feeling inspired by Jussi Oksanen’s wisdom, watch the full interview below.