What follows are extracts from a feature article in which two identical twin motorbike racers are compared using PCLs Risk Type Compass®. They feature at opposite ends of the Calm:Emotional scale and as such have very different motivational styles.
YOU COULDN’T HAVE scripted it any better. Within two hours and 41 minutes on Sunday 20th October 2013 , Sam Lowes became World Super sport champion and Alex Lowes British Superbike champ. After 18 years of dedication, training and total commitment to racing motorbikes, the identical twins achieved at the highest level at the same time.
This is, in a way, the story of how they did it. It’s also the story of what drives the Lowes twins – a rare insight into the bike racing psyche, and the different ways it can operate. Because while the brothers look identical, and have the same brutal work ethic and insatiable desire to win, they are polar opposites when it comes to preparation, outlook and dealing with the pressures of racing.
Everything you’re about to read comes from a detailed psychological examination of the twins by occupational psychologist Kate Oliver. Kate’s used to racers; in a 2002 edition of MCN Sport she tested James Toseland, Shane Byrne and Steve Plater. The three underwent a conventional test normally used in business. It showed levels of competitiveness and self-determination so far beyond ordinary people’s that they couldn’t be measured. This time Kate tried Sam and Alex with a test called the Risk Type Compass, published by PCL. It measures something much nearer to what bike racing is about: attitude to risk.
The results threw up fundamental differences in the two men’s personalities – traits that she went on to explore in an intense, two- hour, joint interview. It’s hard to feel anything other than upbeat when you’re in the Lowes’ company. Whatever you’re doing there’s the constant background noise of chatter and pisstaking from two people who are overflowing with enthusiasm for everything they do, and also exceptionally close.
THE ESSENTIAL DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALEX AND SAM
Kate: “As soon as I met them I could see they were totally different. Sam is straight in there chatting away, having a laugh and trying to break the ice. He wants you to like him away, whereas Alex will sit back and survey the arena, and decide whether he is going to engage in it.”
Sam: “Yeah , you’re right. My back is killing me. I’ve been carrying him for 23 years!”
Kate: “Alex’s risk profile is much more intense than Sam’s. He’s fuelled much more by self –doubt and anticipation. He likes to plan ahead in an effort to avoid things that could go wrong.
That’s what gives him his passion, his focus and his determination to succeed. He has a very different profile to Sam; it comes out in what they say, and how they speak about each other.
Alex: “Our mum says that when we were really young and we met new people I’d just push Sam to the front to do the talking while I stayed behind him.”
Kate: “Once Alex is engaged in something he will be very passionate and sincere about it, but he will be much more selective about what he gets into. He doesn’t have the same need as Sam to be liked by everyone.”
TWO RACING PERSONALITIES
Every champion rides and handles pressure in a different way. The twins’ methods differ wildly.
Kate: “Alex is much more self- referenced, so he measures himself against himself with questions like, ‘Have I done the best I can possibly do?’. Sam thinks a little bit more about how people see him, so he asks questions like, ‘Do they think I’m a champion?’.
“Put simply, Sam is worried about what other people think and Alex is only worried about what he thinks. Sam is also naturally more trusting and laid back. So before a race Sam will be chatting, messing about and having a bit of a giggle. Whereas Alex pretty much wants to be on his own, with no distractions. Alex is much more planned; he has the personality that means he wants to be in control of life, with everything scheduled, regimented and structured.
So if the plan is to train every day at Sam, Alex will want to be there at 7.45 and if something comes up it will pretty much have to be a life or death situation for him to change that.”
Alex: “If my girlfriend needs a lift somewhere when I’m meant to be going training, she’d be getting a taxi.”
Kate: “Sam is different. Alex often has to drag him out of bed to go training. For Sam, as long as they get to the gym it doesn’t matter if they start at 8am or 9am. He’ll still train as hard as Alex, so it’s not about being any less committed. It’s just that Sam is far more spontaneous and easygoing.”
DEALING WITH THE LOWS
During 2011 Alex saw his career derailed. After initially impressing on the WFR Honda in the EVO class he parted company with the team when contract negotiations collapsed. He was immediately signed by the MSS Kawasaki squad, but while showing incredible speed suffered frequent crashes. He substituted for the injured Jonathan Rea in the Castrol Honda WSB squad before finishing the season back in BSB, in the Motorpoint Yamaha team run by Rob McElnea.
Kate: “Alex admits that his intense personality caused problems during that season. It wasn’t going well so he just kept pushing himself, and got more down. The more down he got the harder he pushed and the bigger the risks he took. And because he is more self- referencing, whenever people tried to offer him advice he wouldn’t listen.
“This was a crux moment in his career, because he learned so much from it. Now he’s more willing to listen to other people, and learn more about how to control himself. Now he can make it work to his advantage, as opposed to getting in the way. He’s more likely to dwell on things that have gone wrong in the past or anticipate problems. This is what drives him, whereas Sam hasn’t had these setbacks – and even if he did, he would just assume everything will be all right.”
Alex: “Even now I still feel like I missed two years of my career because I didn’t have the right ride. Sam has never had that. It was a tough two years for me and these experiences are obviously going to change your outlook on life.”
IF I WIN, IT’S BECAUSE OF ME!
The Lowes’ self- determination shapes their resilience as racers, but in ways that suit each rider’s personality.
Kate: “Sam has a very positive attributional style: he will attribute success to himself, but when things go wrong he’ll generally attribute it to something external. He’ll also assume it ‘s an isolated event and move on.
“Alex will also attribute success to himself. The difference is that when it goes wrong he’ll blame himself. But it’s not a negative thing, because he’ll look at it, learn from it and prevent it from happening again.
Alex: “I’ve already noticed this in WSB. Quite a few of the lads at the front talk about things that wouldn’t even enter my mind. Even in the team people have spoken about how other riders did on the bike, and the problems they might have had. I’m so not interested in this. I don’t want to limit myself by other riders’ experiences. I’m not bothered what Eugene or Leon Camier did. I just want to go as fast as I can go.
A footnote from the publishers of Risk Type Compass®:
This case study illustrates the relationship between motivation and personality. Personality determines what you have to deal with within yourself in order to achieve your goals. The goals are the same for both riders, but the route to success, in terms of the emotions and restraints involved, are very different. Research shows that, although there may be features in any industry that are particularly attractive to particular personality (or Risk Type) characteristics, individuals with less likely profiles can also succeed in that context – maybe in a different way, or by reigning in the impulses that could be counter productive. Risk Type will influence a persistent bias in the decision making process, but we are sentient human beings and, to the extent that we have self-knowledge, understand our limitations and know how to manage ourselves, we have free will. Self-knowledge confers powerful advantages.