Taming Tigers with Jim Lawless

July 18, 2018

Very few people choose to risk their own life when putting their principles to the test.

Jim Lawless is one of them. As a world-leading authority on change and personal development, Lawless has shared his remarkable experiences and insights with over half a million people across five continents.

His framework for successful adaptation and transformation – laid out in bestselling book Taming Tigers – has informed change programmes for companies such as Apple, Barclaycard and Atos. It’s also the same framework that led Lawless to become a jockey in just 12 months, and step into the record books as the first Briton to dive lower than 100m on a single breath.

Ahead of his keynote slot at this year’s gunnercooke Symposium, we grab some time to dig a little deeper into his background, ideas and how exactly he inspires people to keep pushing the envelope.

gunnercooke: Jim, can you tell us a little bit about the significance of the tiger metaphor that runs throughout your work? 

JL: Sure, it represents the raw visceral fear reaction we experience when doing new, risky, uncertain or challenging things. Over time this “Tiger” creates “Rules” about what is and is not possible for us, our team, business and so on. The Rules seem very real so, naturally, we take our critical decisions in accordance with them. Now we no longer need to encounter the fear; we have all the reasons why we should not try already worked out.

The Tiger image was actually born when I read Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Pi has to face down a very real tiger whilst marooned at sea in a lifeboat… or does he?

Why do you think people all over the world can relate to that image?

Because we have already experienced it! I am just naming the phenomenon. Most of us have new adventures we want to experience in our lives. Yet most of us are thwarted by the adrenaline dump when we reach the moment of trying a new, uncertain thing. Most people also navigate by untested Rules about their possibilities. They make immediate and quite uninformed decisions about what is feasible to avoid meeting ever meeting the Tiger at all. We can learn to deal with this. It is the learned skill of adaptation.

We’ve heard that you began your career as a commercial solicitor. How do you think the Taming Tigers methodology applies to modern day lawyers specifically?

That’s right, I worked as a solicitor for a City of London firm and a major IT company for a number of years before starting my own business. The truth is that all professions, including law, are now being disrupted to some degree – and gunnercooke is clearly a disruptor.

If change and disruption is all around us, then every professional now has to consider treating personal adaptation as a core skill. And it is a hugely exciting and rewarding skill to use! My personal experience is that law firms have chosen to engage with people like me far less than other industries. Banking, pharmaceuticals, tech, finance, retail, manufacturing, consumer goods companies all take the core skill of adaptation very seriously. I think this presents the average lawyer with a huge opportunity to pull ahead.

I work with lawyers in both my business and personal life. As a personal observation, very few offer the level of real partnership that my designers do. Smart lawyers out there already know they need to adapt what they offer and how they offer it. Firms like gunnercooke are leading the charge in that respect.

You’ve clearly pushed yourself to adapt in quite extreme ways – more than once! Did you have a passion for horse riding or deep sea diving before you took on those challenges?

Definitely not. I’d been horse racing once beforehand, but that was a corporate invitation. We saw no horses. I had a huge passion for the ocean and I’d learned to scuba, but not to freedive, when I decided to take on the British record and go past 100m. I was just a non-sporty kid from a south London comp. It took a deal of challenging my personal Rules before deciding to roll up my sleeves and start creating those chapters in my story.

How important is it to keep challenging yourself to improve, even if you have earned the right to call yourself an expert at what you do?

Lifelong learning and adaptation is no longer an option. It’s a necessity for survival within the ideas economy in which we operate. I’m not referring to CPD. Rightly or wrongly, expertise is a given once professional exams have been passed. The ability to sell and deliver a first rate commercial service to business people is an entirely different thing.

Jim will be delivering his internationally renowned Taming Tigers presentation at this year’s gunnercooke Symposium.