Black and White Program

Talking Shop with George Davison

May 9th, 2008 by John Eastman

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Now do you find yourself in a mentoring situation with anyone?
DAVISON: Yes. I’m doing quite a bit of that now. I do a lot of mentoring internally in the company on several different fronts. As well, I have mentored and given life lessons to students and faculty at CMU, Suffolk University, and other schools. We also have groups, like the Boy Scouts and elementary schools, that come here and we inspire these kids with our work environment. The age of the group really dictates the kind of mentoring I’m going to do. For example, right now I’m doing life planning with some of the people on our team and explaining how they could re-think their priorities to get to where they are trying to go in life. I’ll also mentor how to brainstorm, how to invent, how business and creativity must come together to create, and other subjects.

What excites me about paintball is that it is like a human chess board on a 20 minute clock.

You were a professional paintball player.
DAVISON: Yes

What excites you about paintball? Being the hunter? The hunted?
DAVISON: What excites me about paintball is that it is like a human chess board on a 20 minute clock. You’re making a lot of decisions under fire, so you get to build your ability to learn how to make good decisions under pressure. But most of all, I really enjoyed having an opportunity to have time with my best friends. It was an opportunity where we could reunite and be together again because we were all out of college and people were going their own way. This was a common sport that we could all do and enjoy. And what happened was that we started to excel at a very fast rate. What also had my interest was that my friend was also starting his own business in paintball products. So, the tie-in between friendship, the sport and the lack of decent products in the sport lead us to create new products for the sport.

Today my friend has built a thirty plus million dollar a year business with all the most innovative products in the industry that all came out of many years of wanting better products, coming up with ideas to create those products, building them, testing them, and then pushing them through a manufacturing operation at a price-point that the paintball industry could afford.

…paintball is also a leadership lab. [...] I was our on-field captain for a couple years and I found that paintball teaches you how to manage human beings. Just as in business management, you’ve got to get into your team’s head.

You were essentially a design lab playing paintball, which then harnessed and turned out products?
DAVISON: Yes. Some of my best and worst memories of the sport were based upon how the technology out of the lab worked. And some of the innovations brought laughter from the other teams. One of the innovations my friend had was to drill holes in our barrels in a spiral kind of way because he thought that it would put a spin on the paintball. Everybody was shooting knuckleballs at the time. Once you ‘externally port’ the barrel though, you get a slight spin. When that happens, you get a straighter, longer shot. And when we went to New York — I’ll never forget it because that was a defining tournament for us — before the tournament started, people were laughing at us because we had holes in our barrels. They said, “Oh, dirt’s going to get in there; rain’s going to get in there.” Well, even though that may be true, the advantages outweighed the disadvantages and we won that tournament due to the new barrel technology, and his company started to sell a lot of those barrels. In fact, they are still on the market today. On another note, paintball is also a leadership lab. I was our on-field captain for a couple years and I found that paintball teaches you how to manage human beings. Just as in business management, you’ve got to get into your team’s head. You’ve got to figure out where and what they’re best at. You have to communicate with them in such a way that they do their job well. They have to know what is expected of them and that they will be held accountable for the results or lack of results. They learned that in order to chase a dream they had to practice well so we could play well on game day and when they performed, there were rewards. But what you also find is that you’ve got to act and make the best decision you can in a timely manner regardless of the fact that you are in a massive, chaotic situation. I mean there are thousands of paintballs flying everywhere and your ability to lead others is tested in this chaotic game that only lasts for 20 minutes. You learn a lot about people when you put your back up against theirs, supporting each other as a team, and executing out a modified plan as time goes on because you don’t know who is going to get shot out on the field. You lead through that chaos and manipulate your plan as you do in business. In business, you put a business plan together and it rolls out; but it never stays to that plan. Things happen and you have to adjust accordingly. How quickly can you do that? How well does your team adjust when you make the change? How good is your communication and execution? All of this comes into play in business and in paintball. In paintball though, it is easier to see the results right before your eyes much more quickly than in the business world.

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