Running and Business

Posted on August 27, 2009

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The other day, while driving to IKEA, I covered some ground on which I intended to run. Because I was going to IKEA, I was thinking about marketing. Because I was driving on my running course, I was also thinking about running. The two topics wove around themselves in my head until I started thinking about how they’re related. Yes, I think a lot.

Content is King

At one of the earliest running events I entered, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “You can’t fake this.” It’s one of the things that I love about running. It forces you to be honest with yourself. You can’t hide a lack of training, a lack of focus, poor sleep, or inadequate nutrition on the course.What you bring with you, your content, is all that matters.

Meanwhile, marketing gurus are evangelizing the “return” of the importance of content. Well, content was always king. You can BS your way through anything in the short-term, but in the long-term you must provide genuinely useful content.

Make It Yours

I compete with people who swear by a training method they adopted wholesale after reading a magazine article. They miss the point. They are not the person who “discovered” that training method. They don’t have the same needs. They’re not at the same training level. What’s more, a training method won’t adapt itself as their needs change over time. To succeed, you have to know your own body, needs, and commitment. Then you can adapt what you read and experience to suit your own goals.

When I worked for a start-up company, they brought in some process consultants who taught the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) process. The consultants made no attempt to understand our business. They had different teams attend the training everyday, and made no attempt to understand teams’ roles within the company. As a result, most of what they taught was forgotten as soon as they left. I took away the idea that my team could experiment with no projects or processes. We could execute trial runs or small scale versions and learn from the experience before going full speed and full scale. I made it mine.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

I see runners who have to have the latest shoes, technical clothing, and MP3 players. I, myself, am sometimes guilty of believing that I need certain things before I can run. When those things become an excuse not to run, I simplify. In Heartbreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood’s Marine gunnery sergeant says, “Let’s keep things simple: If you’ve got your boots on, you can march into combat.” I paraphrase that to motivate myself: If you’ve got your shoes on, you can run.

I’ve been in many meetings where marketing, legal, PR, customer service, and even HR kept adding layers to the discussion, until we lost track of what we were trying to accomplish. Know your team’s role. Know who your team serves. Communicate with those people. Change and improve based on their feedback. Everything else is gravy.

Focus

Something else that I love about running is the focus. I have to focus on my body as I prepare to run. Has my last meal settled? Does this hurt? How about that? My body tells me what I can accomplish, and what I need to protect, if I listen. I have to pay attention to my stride, my pace, my breathing, and my foot placement as I run. When I finish, I focus on stretching again, this time trying to uncover any weakness that I can reduce or eliminate through other training or activity. When I run, it’s about me.

In our daily lives, we spend so much time working with others and caring for others that we can lose track of ourselves. Running brings me back to me. We’ve all heard the old aphorism that “when you’re up to your ass in alligators, it’s hard to remember that you came to clear the swamp.” Take some time everyday to focus on your product and your processes. Focus on things under your control. Try to identify one area that can improve, and work on that. You don’t have to fix everything immediately.

“You just keep thinkin’ Butch. That’s what you’re good at.” -Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969

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