Friday, July 16, 2010

You Can't Improve by Coasting Uphill

The final post of "The Physics of Biking" or what I'm learning about leadership while training for a 24 hour bike ride...I am training for my 6th annual 24 Hours of Booty, a charity bike ride for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. As you might expect, riding even part of 24 hours takes training. I don’t mind training, but I hate hills – at least going up hills. Coming down, now that’s pretty cool. You can coast and catch your breath. The only problem is you can’t improve by going downhill all the time.

Living in North Carolina, there are hills everywhere; you can’t train without encountering them regularly. When I planned my training rides, I used to dread the uphill parts. No matter what techniques I tried, going up long, steep hills was a killer. Give me a flat surface and I can move along at a pretty good clip. Even better was a slight downhill run. I haven’t found a one-sided hill yet, so I would labor through, barely surviving, looking forward to the flying downhill on the other side.

Business blogger Seth Godin noted this in a recent post: It's very difficult to improve your performance on the downhills.

I agree completely. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get any better by just going faster on the downhill side. Eventually, even I realized that the place to improve performance, to get better, is to work on the uphills. That's where the work is, the fun is, the improvement is. On the uphills, if I work hard and don’t give up, I have a reasonable shot at a gain over last time. The downhills are already maxed out by the laws of physics and safety.

Suddenly, the truth about biking can be translated into my work world as well. The best time to do great customer service is when a customer is upset. The moment you earn your keep as a public speaker is when the room isn't just right or the plane is late or the projector doesn't work or the audience is tired or distracted. The best time to engage with an employee is when everything falls apart, not when you're hitting every milestone. And everyone now knows that the best time to start a project is when the economy is lousy.

Godin’s 2007 book “The Dip” is a quick read that reinforces this line of thinking. A Dip is a temporary setback that you will overcome if you keep pushing. But maybe it’s really a cul-de-sac, which will never get better, no matter how hard you try. According to Godin, what really sets superstars apart from everyone else is the ability to escape dead ends quickly while staying focused and motivated when it really counts.

Winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt – until they commit to beating the right Dip for the right reasons. Winners seek out the Dip. They realize that the bigger the barrier, the bigger the reward for getting past it.

What uphill are you facing right now? Will you push through it, improving your performance along the way and on the next hill? Or will you be satisfied with coasting on the other side?

No comments: