A few weeks back, in the midst of the Tour Down Under, I indulged in a little nostalgia and wrote about one of the lessons that I learnt as a young cyclist, the lesson of Never Giving Up and how it applies today to business. Before the hype of the Tour Down Under fades too far from memory, I thought I would share another insight from my early cycling days…
It’s not about the Bike!
I never cease to be amazed at the public enthusiasm for the Tour Down Under and the huge numbers of people who participate in the various community events and the sponsored rides. I am also equally amazed at the stories I hear of people who, after attending a few stages of the race, are so enthusiastic and inspired that they rush out and buy an expensive bike with all the latest gear. From observation and from what I hear, they generally launch straight into a 40km or 80 km ride without any thought to proper planning, training or preparation and then wonder why the next day they can hardly walk. As someone famous once said, “It’s not about the bike!” That got me thinking about the parallels I see in the business world. To anyone looking to buy or start a new business there is a temptation to look around and see what the really successful players are doing and think that if you replicate what they have and what you see them doing you can enjoy instant success too. In business as with the bike riding, what you don’t see are the years of faithful planning, training and preparation that has underpinned their success.
So here it is: Lesson Two – Planning, Training and Preparation
Before the start of each new season I would sit down with my coach and my parents (who were the necessary support crew) and plan out the races that I would compete in. As I was still at school and couldn’t drive, my time and resources were limited and it was important that I balanced my study, family and cycling commitments. So out of necessity I largely competed in races that were local and held on days that didn’t clash with other long standing personal commitments. Sometimes though, as I was also on the State Team, I might do the odd interstate race to broaden my experience and gain exposure to a new environment or a different group of competitors.
I have come to realise over the years that when it comes to operating a business, working out which “races” or opportunities you pursue and those you don’t is no different. There is always a delicate balancing act between work and family (or personal) commitments and I still think how remarkable it is that the most promising opportunities always seem to be timed to clash with long standing personal commitments.
I believe that good planning holds some important keys to avoiding regret, disappointment and resentment later on and from my experience it looks like this:
- Start by clearly articulating what you want to achieve;
- Agree the ground rules together (with your support team) and the limitations that apply;
- Before the start of each new “season” sit down with your Coach (or Business Mentor or Board of Directors) and your support crew (staff or family) and plan together what opportunities you will pursue and which ones you won’t;
- Stick to the plan.
I have also found that this approach enables those most impacted by the decisions to feel valued, included and heard, and avoids a lot of arguments and accusations later on.
Once the races had been mapped out and the season was underway I followed a strict training regime. Most nights of the week after school I would go out on my own and train over distances ranging between 40 to 90 km. In addition, once a week, usually on a Wednesday before dawn, I would go out with my coach (Brian Gould) for a training session. During this session he would concentrate on refining my posture and riding style. He would also teach me tactics like how to avoid being knocked off my bike, how to read a competitor and anticipate what the bunch might do at each stage and how to drop a competitor on the climb.
The other thing that was important in these sessions was to get a sense of the speed you were doing both on the climbs and on the downhill runs. As this was pre- “bike computer” days the only way you could measure speed was to have someone follow you in a car and so Dad would hop into Brian’s little Suzuki and in addition to clocking our speed, his job was to try and simulate the effect that riding with a bunch creates. Needless to say, there are probably safer ways of doing it these days! The purpose of this Training was four-fold and I again think it relates to business just as well. Essentially training is intended to help you:
- Get familiar and comfortable with your equipment and discover your own strengths;
- Enlist someone you trust who will accompany you at regular intervals to observe what you are doing and provide wise counsel on how you can do it better;
- Spend lots of time refining your personal style, developing your strengths and building endurance;
- Pay attention to the forecasts and spend time getting to know the terrain so you can anticipate the bends in the road and the obstacles along the way; and
- Study your competitors and work out what their strengths are so you can anticipate their moves. Develop and practice new strategies and refine the skills that will help you compete effectively and achieve your goals.
Unlike these days, where each team and rider has several bikes and a full suite of spare parts, when I first started racing as a junior I only had one bike which I trained on during the week and raced on at weekends.
Every Friday night before a race I would pull my bike apart and before putting each component back I would clean it and test it to make sure it was in good working order. This was an important part of my preparations as it gave me confidence that my equipment was in top working order and appropriate for the race.
The other part of my preparation was ensuring that on race day I could find everything I needed and wouldn’t forget anything important. Arriving at a race 80km from home realising you had left your helmet, bike shoes or license behind meant that you had come a long way for nothing. I learnt really quickly that it was best to get everything that I needed out the night before and have a checklist for the day so I wouldn’t forget anything.
Another important part of preparation was making sure that I ate correctly during training and on race day. Road cycling is largely an endurance sport so it is crucial to get proper rest the day before the race and eat often and appropriately during the race to ensure that your effort is sustainable. You will all recall images of the “feeding stations” at strategic points along the Tour route enabling riders to top up with food and water and the subsequent acknowledgement by the commentators of the disadvantage a rider has to overcome if they accidentally drop their “pack” in the hand over process.
I believe good preparation is equally as important in business and the main points to remember here are:
- Before each “race” check your equipment (all of the components and tools that you use to deliver your product or service) thoroughly. Make sure it is clean, in good working order and fit for the purpose.
- Formulate a checklist so you don’t forget any of the important things;
- Always make time to get proper rest so you can perform at your best; and
- Form a support crew (financiers, friends etc) and engage with them at strategic intervals along the way so you have the resources you need to ensure that your effort is sustainable over the long run.
Over the years, bike racing has changed a great deal and advances in technology have streamlined what things do and subsequently how we do things. This is, and will continue to be, the same for business and therefore I believe the need for careful Planning, consistent Training and purposeful Preparation remains as valuable today as it always has been.
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This article is posted in Adelaide, South Australia by Tri-meridian Corporate & Commercial Law and is intended to be used as a guide only. It is not, and is not intended to be, advice on any specific matter. We do not accept responsibility for any acts or omissions resulting from reliance upon the content of this article. Before acting on the basis of any material in this article, we recommend that you consult your professional adviser.