Offroad motorcycle

Business is much like riding a motorcycle off-road

I recently started reading Simon Sinek’s book, The infinite game. This book builds on the golden circle he introduced in his book, Start with Why.

I fully buy into the “WHY” concept as I use it as a basis for both my coaching and consulting work. It provides both intent and focus as well as removing the ego to some extent.

Reading the book reminded me of my off-road motorcycle training. The instructor repeatedly told all the trainees, pick up your head and focus on where you want to go. I remember her saying, if you look at the hole or rock, you will end in the ditch, meaning you will fall. Also important during the training was the intent component. When you looked through the path, and you found the destination on the horizon, you need to commit and go. You don’t shift your vision to look at the rocks and holes. Our brains are so powerful, they noticed each rock and ditch, and when you focus on where we want to get to, you will find you missed most of the rocks and holes completely. This does not say you missed all of them, you will feel when you hit a rock or hole, but this is where the motorcycle comes in, it may weave and dance below you, but it will go forward as long as you have enough momentum and keep your eyes on the destination. To gain and keep enough momentum, you need to commit no matter the rocks, holes or other obstacles and focus on where you want to end.

When riding in the sand is perhaps the best description of where you need to leave your ego behind, else you will end with a mouth full of sand and a bruised ego. In the sand, riders tend to tense up and grip the handlebars tightly, which is precisely the wrong thing to do if you want to reach your destination with your ego intact. Due to the physics embedded in a motorcycle, you need to do the opposite. You need almost to let go of the handlebars to allow the front wheel to self-correct. If we grip the handlebars tightly, we disrupt the auto-correction capabilities of the front wheel.

This brings me to another important lesson from my motorcycle riding. The other day during my commute, I was thinking about how many things on a motorcycle is counter-intuitive. Let me give some examples: The most important one is you dress as if you are going to fall and then ride not to fall. Dressing in the right protective gear may limit severe injuries if you fall, and it is purely preventative. If you do not dress correctly and do fall, the consequences may be much more severe.

So what about the riding part? If you want to turn quickly to the left, you need to turn the handlebars to the right. I know it does not sound right and doesn’t make sense. A more difficult one is if you want to stop fast, you need to use the front brake not the back. Most of us had experienced that back-wheel lifting when we grabbed the front brake on your bicycle, so it remains a scary though. In other cases, it is better and safer instead to accelerate than to brake. If the tail-end of the bike gets loose in the gravel, the best solution is to get your weight on the back wheel and to accelerate. This requires you to continually be aware of your changing surroundings to know when to brake or accelerate to avoid or jump an obstacle.

Another scary thought is the motorcyclist riding and stopping between the other cars making the distances between them less. The irony is that this is the safest place for a motorcycle at a robot or Stop street. Reason being the cars act as some protection and a buffer if there is a vehicle driving into the side or back of the other vehicles.

In the off-road racing fraternity, you will also often hear, if you want to go fast, you need to learn to go slow. This is very important because it highlights that there are many other factors to be mastered first before you can go safely and quickly, like balance. Riding a motorcycle fast is so much more than getting on, putting it in gear and opening the throttle wide and go. There is also no skill required to go fast on a straight open tarred road with no cars or obstacles. Offroad, you need to be able to deal with the obstacles and to be able to maintain your momentum, else you will go nowhere fast. Offroad riding also brings a lot of uncertainty and constant change, although you may ride a circular track it rarely stays the same. Usually, some rocks shift, the dust picks up, ruts form, or some other obstacle appears out of the blue.

Off-road riding is also all about efficiency and using the least amount of effort or energy to get over or around obstacles. You can probably carry a bike over some rocks, but when you have the skills and experience, it takes way less energy to use the power of the motorcycle to get you over the rocks or obstacles. You will also last a lot longer and be able to go much further.

Could you identify some similarities or parallels within your business?

Let’s start with the purpose or vision of the organisation. When going off-road riding, you either go on a ride for the enjoyment, training or to race. I ride motorcycles because I like the freedom, being close to the elements, the fun factor, the excitement and many times to get a good dose of adrenalin (it’s a good stress reliever). I intend to get all these things, as well as to arrive safely and intact at my destination to be able to ride another day.

In business, it is critical to know why you are in the business; you are in? Do you have a “just cause”, purpose or vision for your business? Remember if you don’t keep your eyes on the exit point when on the motorcycle you end in the ditch or on the rocks. On the bike, you can also manoeuvre these obstacles much easier when knowing where you are heading. A business and all its employees need to know where they are heading. It gives them something to focus on and not get stuck on the day to day issues. The more inspiring the purpose and the more it aligns to the employees own purpose, the easier it is to keep them motivated and to pursue the overall goals. If an employee’s purpose aligns with that of the organisation, they find it easy to get up and come to work every day. Employees will make sacrifices just like the motorcycle rider sacrificing the safety of a cage around them for the experience.

In keeping your eyes on the purpose will also assist in building and maintaining the momentum to carry you through the rough patches on the road ahead. It is what will ensure you do not deviate from the path you planned, but it also asks for your commitment and effort.

In business, the most challenging thing for many owners is to let go and trust their employees. You are paying good money to highly skilled people, and then many bosses restrict these employees by not allowing them to do their work by either looking over their shoulders the whole time or interfering. Just like riding in sand, we as owners sometimes need to loosen our grip on the handlebars, trust our employees and let them perform. Let’s focus on very light steering by supporting and encouraging our employees. I’ve been part of teams where the most difficult union representatives were invited to join the team implementing the changes the unions were actively opposing. In most cases, these team members became the advocates for the changes, because they saw the bigger picture, and they were allowed some freedom and accountability to work towards these goals.

An example that made me think of the turn left to be able to go right fast is the example of a retailer CVS in America. Their purpose was to “Help people on their path to better health”. When confronted why they sell cigarettes (about $2 billion revenue per year) in their stores, responded by stopping to sell cigarettes at all. You would think this was the wrong decision; guess what?. It caused more people to stop smoking, a 4% increase in the sales of nicotine patches, and healthcare product suppliers, who previously refused to supply to CVS. Suddenly to make their products available. This allowing CVS to sell a greater selection of high-quality brands, allowing new sources of income because more customers and suppliers bought into their purpose of better health.

Lastly, I would like to explore the go slow to go fast idea a bit. It aligns with the African proverb stating: if you want to go fast, go alone if you want to go far, go together. Like I showed previously when the terrain gets gnarly, you might not be able to use pure force or skill to clear the obstacle. In extreme enduro events, you will find that the competitors result in helping each other to get through some obstacles. This is uncommon for most competitive sports, but in these extreme events, it is the only way to get to the finish line. They thus need to stop, help a competitor, and when through, they race on. It could help if a single rider had all the skill to go through the obstacle alone, but skills alone can only take you that far.

Is this so different for business? When you aim to be in the game as long as possible, you will sometimes have to employ strange and uncommon tactics to keep going.

This book causes me to ask a couple of questions: Why I am doing what I am doing and what type of game am I in?

Have you considered what game you are in and if it is where you want to be?

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