What aspects of your father (Dr Aki Hintsa)'s legacy live on at Hintsa Performance today?
Everything! His whole philosophy, which he originally came up with in Ethiopia when working with long distance athletes such as Haile Gebrselassie, is visible in what we do today, in our values. In the notion that a better life belongs to everyone. What my father fundamentally believed was that we are all human and he treated everyone exactly same. He connected with everyone on the same level, be that an Formula One champion or someone off the streets of Addis Ababa. That’s one of the values and core missions that we have - we want our coaching to be possible for everyone. He also valued the fact that none of us are perfect, but that every one of us can be a little bit better one day at a time. That you should be honest about your imperfections and be kind to yourself while wanting to improve.
Having been part of a family-business success story, what do you think is required to ensure a positive succession between generations?
We are four entrepreneurs and leadership cohesion is fundamental - I’m not in this alone. I got involved with the business quite early on and worked closely together with my father prior to the succession. Sharing a vision which we discussed from the beginning was incredibly important. We both believed in helping people to achieve a better life and that a better performance is a by-product of living a holistic and balanced life.
One of the other key factors was that we had deep trust and respect for each other on a professional level, despite coming from the different backgrounds of business and medicine. Trust allows room for the other person to explore and find their own path. An emotional investment in the business can also be a huge strength. Of course, with families, this does mean that things get heated, but when you have trust it’s ok to challenge one another. My father and I would often offer different opinions, but we would listen to each other and walk those through.
What should be avoided to ensure a positive succession?
My father taught me you need to let go. In any succession, that can be difficult. Especially when it’s something you have created yourself, built up from the inside out. You might think you have the right answers to all of the questions at hand, which is often not the case. What my father did brilliantly was give me room to voice my thoughts and make mistakes, because that is how you learn.
My father taught me you need to let go. In any succession, that can be difficult.
What are the key attributes that your father passed on to you?
A lot of them are linked to what we’ve discussed, like incremental change, but something that I inherited from both my parents is to strive for impact and to be a part of a bigger mission – to help others. Also, honesty and integrity. He was always direct and often said things people didn’t want to hear, but which needed to be said. In the world of high performance, whether that’s sports or business, honesty can be incredibly difficult and become a political game. A lot of the time, the truth hurts for the clients that we work with, but it is so vital if you want to grow. Not being afraid to speak up is something that he definitely passed on to me.
What do you hope your legacy will be?
That’s easy – I want to bring Hintsa Performance back to Africa. I want to use the amazing thing that my father created and make it accessible to as many people in the region as possible. It will take time, but my aim is to make the next generation of the business more open through digital innovation.
You’re talking about winning or losing a race in a matter of seconds, so if you can pin point areas, such as sleep, getting 0.5% better might be enough to make a real difference.
Dr Aki Hintsa used to call Formula 1 “the most fascinating laboratory” for the Hintsa philosophy – why is that?
When I started working within Formula One about fifteen years ago, I initially thought, ‘You’re just driving a car in a circle - it’s not really a sport is it?’. I could not have been more wrong – it’s one of the most demanding out there! Not just physically, but mentally, and not just for the driver, but for the whole team. Once you go deeper and start to understand the importance of marginal gains, the high-pressure environment, the biomechanical demands, the travelling across time zones - it becomes a fascinating area to test our philosophy. You’re talking about winning or losing a race in a matter of seconds, so if you can pin point areas, such as sleep, getting 0.5% better might be enough to make a real difference.
How does a person’s health correlate with their business’ health?
Business leaders are only now beginning to see a direct correlation between health and performance - not just physically, but also cognitively. An obvious and basic effect is cost – employees not showing up for work. More insidious and harder to quantify is the culture of ‘presenteeism’ – which effects everything from sleep to physical fitness to nutrition and ultimately harms performance, impacting your cognitive score. You can hire the best person for the job, but may not be getting the best out of them because of this. One of the biggest challenges for clients is finding and retaining talent - because a new generation of workers are actually valuing things other than financial compensation, such as health and wellbeing. Creating a culture that values health will have a massive impact in terms of attraction and retention.
What skills are needed for a person or business to adapt to ever-changing environments?
Today, 30% of our current jobs could be replaced by automation and that’s not just low skilled work, that’s a whole range of industries. The key skills that will be needed for adaptation in this fourth industrial revolution are creativity, critical thinking, complex problem solving and empathy. The former and latter intrinsically human aspects, in particular, will be crucial.
Small steps are needed for true progress.
How do you effectively train yourself into new behaviours?
Creating sustainable behaviour change is fundamental. People who seem to have amazing self-control, are the ones who have to deploy it the least. So in a unique way, they hack their environment to avoid it being required in the first place. I'll give you a personal example: I couldn’t stop browsing Facebook in bed when I got back from work, which deprived me of sleep. To break the habit, I simply made it as difficult as possible for me to access it. I deleted the app, encrypted my password, used a private browser so that I had to use five passwords to get there and ta-da - it really reduced my usage.
Another helpful technique that we use is called 'WOOP' : Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan. Start by thinking what it is that you want to achieve, then really imagine the positive outcome of it, next think of the obstacle that might prohibit you and finally make a plan to avoid that. Whether it’s going to the gym in the morning or spending less time on your phone – it works.
One final thing is to not try to change too many habits at the same time. Work on one. A lot of clients will come to us and say they want to reconfigure their entire life starting from tomorrow. But if you try to change everything simultaneously, then we all know the chances are reduced. Small steps are needed for true progress.
What can companies and business leaders learn from top athletes and Formula One champions in particular?
That focus can lead to performance. What always impresses me, with even the young drivers, is their incredible focus on what matters the most. They set themselves a goal, define whatever it is that they want to achieve, and then optimize the rest of their life to support that goal. That’s applicable to anyone.
Also fascinating is the ability to bounce back after setbacks. Controlling your mind-set to concentrate on the next race, or the next day, or the next corner when there is a setback. This focus on the next task at hand applies to victory as well, you can’t dwell on the success of yesterday too much, otherwise you jeopardize tomorrow.
Where is your favourite drive (and in what)?
If I’m being honest I would probably say on my bike! I would have two options - either riding my bike across Finland’s countryside, not tied to anything, which is incredible. The other would be in a jeep driving across Ethiopia. Completely different, but for me it’s the roads, the people, its everything.
Annastiina Hintsa is the COO of Hintsa Performance, a leading provider of human high performance services. It offers coaching services and digital tools to improve the life and performance of individuals, teams and entire organisations. Over the past 20 years, its science-based method for optimising health, wellbeing and performance has been tested in some of the most challenging environments of business and sports.
Better life. Better performance. Hintsa Performance has been guiding people and businesses to achieve both for over 20 years. Hintsa is a leading provider of high performance coaching and wellbeing services. Its science-based methods for optimising health, wellbeing and performance have been proven in the most challenging environments of business and sports. Clients, from Formula 1 world champions and Fortune 500 CEOs to executive teams and employees worldwide, trust Hintsa to help them succeed in their fields.
You can read more about their work and expertise here.