Learn to make the hard decisions better – with Hannah Mills

Double Olympic medal-winning sailor Hannah Mills talks about the work she has put into getting better at addressing the decisions she has previously found hard to make in the heat of a race

01/12/2020

Simon Adler

Simon Adler

Fund Manager, Equity Value

“I probably get 60% to 70% of my decisions right but what makes the difference is the ability to recognise when you have potentially made the wrong decision and then very quickly address that – to figure out the next best option that will still give you a reasonable outcome and not make a huge loss in the race.” Change ‘race’ to ‘portfolio’ and you could be forgiven for thinking these are the aspirations of a value investor ...

As it happens, these words are spoken by our latest guest on The Value Perspective podcast – double Olympic medal-winning and two-time world champion sailor Hannah Mills, with whom we are discussing decision-making under pressure. “Ultimately, with sailing, we are looking for consistency,” she says. “Our events are a week long, we have 10 different races throughout that week and the scores all add up.

 

“So it’s not just about that one shining moment where you win a race – it is about achieving consistent results throughout the week.” As Mills goes on to explain, there are countless decisions to be made ‘off the water’ when preparing to race – on different elements of the boat, other equipment, training (physical as well as mental), who you crew with – but it is on the water where it all comes together. Or not.

“It is all very much in the moment,” Mills continues. “Dealing with the facts as they are presented to you – the wind, the course, where the other boats are. You have to figure them all out in your head, work out where to put your priorities and then, based on all those different factors, you make your decision as to what will give you the most beneficial result for that race.”

Making hard decisions better

As you would expect from a champion sailor, Mills’s decision-making has only improved with experience. What particularly caught our eye, however – keen students of behavioural finance that we are, here on The Value Perspective – is the work she has put into getting better at addressing the decisions she has previously found hard to make in the heat of a race. “I'll give you an example,” says Mills.

“At the start of a race, I could decide to line up with all the other competitors – or I could choose to start some way away from them. If I do that, I know we will have a really clear start to the race but, ultimately, it puts me at risk. All the other boats are starting together so, if the wind shifts their way, they will all be ahead of me. I do like the feeling of freedom from having a big gap but it is quite a risky place to start.

“So where I have become a lot better over the last four years is putting myself in the mix with all the other boats so at least I am still in the race if the wind shifts. I have found it hard but we have practised a lot in training – just forcing myself to start in that more challenging position so, when it comes to the racing, when it really matters, I know I can do it and I know it is ultimately going to give me a more consistent result.

Good and bad biases

“It is about becoming more analytical – looking at yourself and what you tend to do and whether they are good or bad biases – and then figuring out ways to address the ones you think are bad and make them better. I have found a whole host – some of which I have managed to rectify and some of which we will still be working on over the coming year, right up until the Tokyo Olympics.”

All the work Mills puts into making good decisions out on the water has inevitably had an influence off it. The ability to look at things logically and process them in an ordered fashion does help in everyday life too,” she says. “Definitely with big life decisions, it has given me the skills to think about all the things I do and don’t know and then weigh all that up to try and come to a reasonable decision.

“This year in particular has been hard for everyone, hasn’t it? So many uncertainties and so many unknowns. For me, though, the big challenge was the Olympic Games being pushed back a year. As athletes, we are always told the Olympic Games moves for no-one – your start date is your start date, so be ready – and then it was moved.

“That was nuts. If I had had to process that eight or even four years ago, it would have been a lot harder. Mentally, I would have really struggled with the unknowns and the uncertainty of that change and what has followed but, this time, I had a process I could go through to deal with it and make the right decisions – both in terms of carrying on for another year and how I was going to approach that year in the right way.”

Author

Simon Adler

Simon Adler

Fund Manager, Equity Value

I joined Schroders in 2008 as an analyst in the UK equity team, ultimately analysing the Media, Transport, Leisure, Chemicals and Utility sectors. In 2014 I moved into a fund management role and have had experience managing Global ESG and Pan-European funds.  I joined the Value investment team in July 2016 to focus on UK institutional and ethical-value portfolios.

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