Anyone who knows me, knows that when I get stressed out at work, the first place my mind goes is to the woods and mountain biking. I've always been that way. The best way I've found to deal with stress and anxiety is to get out there and get physical. I'm always amazed by the mental clarity that can be found in physical activity. I could be sitting at my desk or in my office for 25 hours a day, stressed to the max. My head filled with data, requirements, and trying to figure out how everything fits together. Everything seemingly leading no where. Teeth grinding, neck tense, and ready to explode, I would throw my hands up and say, "That's f###ing it, I'm DONE!"
Proceeding to angrily load the bike into the truck, pull on my riding gear, I would head out to blow off some steam. And then it happens. Every. Single. Time. The world becomes a little clearer. Everything relaxes away, and BOOM, insight. You clear that log pile and now that management decision seems obvious. You hit that rock drop with all of your focus, and that branding choice couldn't have been clearer. You crest that incredible climb to an amazing panorama view, and the IT challenges seem completely inane.
Every single time I get on that bike, the world seems to get clearer for every other part of my life. So here are 5 things Mountain Biking has taught me about business.
1) Look Where You Want To Go- Any great rider will tell you that your bike goes where your eyes go. Everyone has seen that video of the toddler on a run away bike slamming into the back of the car when they could have just as easily turned the wheel. It's our animal nature to keep our eyes on things that we find to be a threat or are trying to avoid. We can't help it. But in biking and in business, if you spend all of your time worrying about the risks and dangers of the world, you'll inevitably end up there. Don’t focus on where you don’t want to be. Focus on where you want to go and the opportunity in front of you. Only second place finishers worry more about how to fend off competition rather than defining success.
2) Know Your Limits- I would loved to have been that incredible Red Bull mountain biker hucking myself of huge cliffs in the desert. It's normal to have aspirations to be bigger and better than you are currently capable. But if I were to go out to Moab right now and try that, I might make some news, but more likely I'd end up broken and on the sideline for months. I've been there. I've broken bones. And when I was younger it was usually due to bravado making my body do things my head knew my talent was not capable of. Stretch goals are great, but biking will teach you to manage that situation. Evaluate, am I trying to huck huge when I can barely bunny hop? Is there a better way around this challenge? Framing challenges in terms of your core competencies (I can't believe I just used that buzzword) is important. Stretch yourself in what you're good at because you can be great at that. It takes much more energy to try and be average at what you're bad at.
3) It’s Ok To Fall- Falling hurts. No matter how hard I try, it happens. Falling and failing are part of biking and life in general. But, any team that has worked with me knows I have one important motto gleaned from my biking background. If you're not falling, you're not trying or learning. No one is perfect. If you think that you can do nothing but win, then you probably aren't stretching yourself, your team, or your organization far enough. You learn far more from failures than you do successes. Anyone who tells me their organization has never had a failure, I automatically assume they are underperforming their potential. Falling is also a good way to keep you and your organization's ego in check. It's ok to fall. It's important to fall. BUT the most important aspect of falling and failing is asking, "What did I learn?"
4) The Best Equipment Doesn’t Make The Best Rider- I ride in shoes that are falling apart, a bike that is more than 10 years old, and a regular shirt. No spandex. No high tech bike. All of my gear works though. I'm also not the best rider in my area, but I do think I perform just above the average. Anyone who has been involved in mountain biking or any other action sport knows the "All the gear, No idea" dude. They have thousands of dollars of the newest high tech gear. In the parking lot, everyone has to check out what they have and how it works. But, once those tires hit that dirt, no amount of money can make up for basic skills and talent. It's money wasted. They are toys to fill and ego. Would you buy a Ferrari for a brand new driver? Of course not. I've seen some of the dirtbaggiest mountian bikers in jeans, a t-shirt, and flat pedals on a 20 year old bike, absolutely shred past me on the trails. And every time, I think, "Damn that's rad." Make sure you have the skills and talent before you equip it with toys.
5) Flow And Balance- If nothing else, mountain biking has taught me about flow and balance. The wheels on the bike keep turning and you can either hit the brakes and stop or your can learn to work with the bike. Stopping means giving up. The challenge wins. Learning flow and balance means progression. It means learning. It means success. But it also means managing tension, managing stress, and relieving anxiety. It's not easy, and I'm not talking about being all hippy dippy with sunflowers and yoga. If you find your flow and balance on a bike, it just gets easier. If you teach and practice a learning culture in business it will cultivate a flow and balance that makes dealing with challenges easier. From biking to business, I've learned this involves
Being realistic with expectations and demands.
Not living in the past in success or failure.
Equipping yourself to deal with the challenges you can see.
Recognizing when you get to that flow state and do everything you can to stay there... even when you get off the bike... or out of the boardroom.