Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable

Nick Quinn Nick Quinn
Industry Director, Energy Export – Australia
16 August 2022
6 min read

When it comes to ultramarathons (running races longer than the standard marathon of 42.2 kilometres or 26.2 miles), the greater the distance, the faster the pace – even across all genders and age groups. It seems counterintuitive but it's easily explained: longer distance races attract the most committed runners. They're not just running for the sake of joining the race. They're in it for the challenge, the adrenaline rush, the experience, and ultimately, the satisfaction of knowing they conquered a mammoth task. 

But how often do we willingly submit ourselves to take on such ambitious and difficult challenges these days? As an ultra-endurance competitor, the most common question I am asked after I put myself through such an event is why? My answer, and what I truly believe, is because so many parts of life now are designed for ease and speed there are increasingly limited opportunities for us to test ourselves in the way that our ancestors did. 

It's no surprise that during the peaks of the pandemic, organisations were less likely to take risks: in 2021, almost 90 per cent of organisations were reassessing their tolerance for risk. However, as chat of recessions and bear markets louden, will this trend continue? The danger in becoming risk averse is that leaders and businesses become less likely to seek inputs from different perspectives and have the tendency to stick with what worked in the past, instead of braving the new and being truly ambitious.

Forcing ourselves outside our comfort zone brings new perspective. As we head into a decarbonised future, organisations are having to be daring and forward thinking to make radical change happen. The only way we will fast-track our transition to renewable energy will be by pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone and nowhere is this more apparent than the energy industry that is tackling challenges and creating solutions at a pace and speed never seen before.

Can choosing the rough path instead of the easy one be more advantageous in the long run and help us achieve better results?

Convergence of industries and changing business models

Spurred by technological advancements in the past 15 years, we have witnessed a convergence of industries particularly the energy and transport sectors

Today, the interconnection of energy and transport presents the greatest challenges and opportunities for the decarbonisation movement. How will the adoption of electric vehicles impact the electricity grid? How will governments fund road infrastructure in the absence of fuel tax revenue? Everything is now interrelated, which is disrupting traditional business models and leading to exciting new partnerships. 

For example, Australian airline Skytrans and aerospace start-up Stralis are working together to fly Australia's first hydrogen-powered aircraft. Stralis will be modifying and retrofitting a plane with a zero-emissions hydrogen-electric propulsion system (HEPS), and anticipate a maiden flight by 2025 followed by certification and entry into service by 2026.

Iron ore giant Fortescue also has plans to build a fleet of electric trains to exploit the energy potential of four of its downward sloping rail routes from the Pilbara. By 2030, the four Pilbara routes will be equipped with trains which regenerate electricity on the downhill loaded sections, removing the need for renewable energy generation and recharging infrastructure. Excess electricity will be offloaded to support the company's other regional operations.

What if we look at this challenging situation from a bigger perspective and instead of just borrowing or taking ideas from one industry to another, create whole new systems and platforms that change the way we live and operate?

Smart cities require the convergence of more than two different industries for it to truly happen – digital and data, governance, mobility, transport, utilities, infrastructure providers among many others. The last few decades are littered with examples of Airbnb, Uber and smartphones completely up-ending industries as we knew them, but what else lies ahead? 

Tesla has a masterplan to enable owners of its vehicles to become a small ride-service sharing provider once they become fully autonomous, using a temporary digital key to give their renters.

IDEA Lab is aiming to 'design, research and develop IT artefacts that can solve human and social problems'. Founding Director Dr Samir Chatterjee's work in persuasive technology was able to assist in preventing heart-failure patients from being readmitted to hospital by combining communication, technology, psychology and medical expertise to help them comply with required regimens.

The different ideas that we can explore between collaborations that we've never seen before are endless. 

Collaboration is key

Ask any endurance athlete and they will tell you that despite them standing on the start line as an individual, it is 100 per cent a team effort. Nothing of significance can be achieved without a team.

In a post published by the World Economic Forum, Illai Gescheit of Siemens Energy Ventures argues that capital alone will not build the infrastructure and resources we need to accelerate the journey to climate neutrality. Climate solutions founders and start-ups need other support too, including partnerships, mentors, frameworks, programmes and communities. 

Thanks to infrastructure spending, the war for talent has induced people to upskill and take on different roles and skills than previously. This is beneficial to everyone because it means we are tackling problems innovatively and reflects the importance of building teams with diverse backgrounds to come up with solutions. Although, it takes time and lots of 'flearning' (failure while learning) is involved while people work things out.

Endurance to stay in the problem longer

When economist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in 2002, he said in his acceptance speech, "Humans are to thinking as cats are to swimming. We can do it when we have to, but we'd much prefer not to."

The notion of no pain, no gain is a common analogy in sport; nonetheless, it is also important that we apply this mindset to tackling the truly important world challenges in front of us today. The truth is nobody likes it when things are hard, although in many cases that makes the result all the more rewarding. 

There are so many questions and demands of the transitioning global energy market. But it's what makes it exciting and dynamic to be a part of – just like an ultra-endurance event, you may not know all the obstacles you'll encounter along the way, but reaching the ultimate destination is more than worth it.


Nick Quinn
Written by
Nick Quinn

Nick regularly pushes himself outside his comfort zone by competing in endurance events around the world, with his next target being The Race Across America cycling event.

Unfortunately, you are using a web browser that Aurecon does not support.

Please change your browser to one of the options below to improve your experience.

Supported browsers: