Thursday, 21 October 2010

Slow and steady progress to your goal

The lessons that business can learn from sport are well documented. I’ve written before about sports psychology in business, in particular about goal setting. At the time of my previous post I had only just started running. I was bright-eyed with my new running shoes and a great deal of enthusiasm.

My running shoes are now rather muddy and annoyingly prone to giving me blisters. And I am decidedly frustrated at my slow-coach style. I had to pull out of the track exercise last night because my legs just wouldn’t respond when my brain said accelerate. There was no more go in them. No matter how positively I thought about it. It’s a wry lesson.

In business, as sport, there is no substitute for slow and steady progress with an eye held firmly on the target. In business, as in sport, progress is often painfully slow.

Confucius is credited with saying:
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
I repeat that advice to myself almost constantly as I run (completely ignorant of Confucius and his musings): just run, don’t stop, keep running. As you can tell I’m not what you might call a natural at this running lark, but after 6 months of plugging away at it I have just completed my half marathon. When I started I couldn’t run a mile without medical assistance.

So when I read Gretchen Rubin’s blog post quoting Vincent Van Gogh, it got me thinking:

“If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things.”
It is beginning to dawn on me just how difficult it is to make real progress with my running. Difficulties in business can be equally frustrating. Yet keeping on going, continuing to make small steps may be the answer to both. Maybe understanding my limitations with running will help me understand my business better too.

I wouldn’t have believed 6 months ago that I could run a half marathon, and now I don’t believe I can run one in anything like a decent time. But if I continue to train, maybe I won’t be quite as hopeless in another 6 months. Maybe.


  1. Congratulations on your half-marathon.

    Like you, I have been on a journey to improved personal fitness. I have started a little later in life than you and with the aspiration not to be a dribbling invalid when my grandchildren reach their teens.

    Along with my gym schedule, I have been developing as a road-cyclist, with targets for the coming years including charity sportives.

    I recognised the symptoms you encountered in your track night. I think you ran out of fuel.

    Last Wednesday, I bought myself a day of tuition from a professional mountain-bike rider. We spent seven hours hauling around the unmade paths of the Wareham Forest and up onto the ridges of Purbeck. After the third hour, and just starting a climb on loose stone up to Nine Barrow Down, my legs refused, like yours to give any more. I had done everything right: pig out on pasta the night before, a good breakfast of grains and dried fruit, load up with water and minerals to stave off dehydration, but I still hit the 'bonk' point. Fortunately, I had shipped an industrial quantity of jelly beans in my backpack and, after a period of self-pity and jelly-bean ingestion, I managed to get up the hill. I had grossly underestimated the differences between on-road and off-road riding and had failed to make allowance for them.

    I think the management analogy works:

    Never assume that soemthing you have done easily in one context will be equally easy in another.

    Always remember that your effort requires fuel - physical and mental - and make sure you monitor the personal impact of what you are doing to intervene before you hit the 'bonk' point. As a manager, you should be doing this with your subordinates, too. Digging deep is great as long as there is something at the bottom.

  2. Hi Jerry

    What an action man you are becoming! Despite set-backs, it's got to be worth it.

    Understanding our limitations is a key ingredient to success - both in the boardroom and pounding the pavements.