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What I Learned This Week (Seven Years Ago): Why Cycling is Like Business

08/18/2014 09:23 EDT | Updated 10/18/2014 05:59 EDT

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I'm off on vacation for a couple of weeks, but as I like to do at these times, I comb my archives to find a couple of reruns from many moons ago that simultaneously reference the time period (i.e. an August past) and are also relevant to today. Here's the first one, from a bike trip through Italy I took back in 2007 (hence the picture above!).

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After a few days pedalling through the Himalayas -- oops, sorry, make that the rolling "hills" of Italy's Tuscany district -- I have come to a stark corporate realization:

Cycling is just like business.

This metaphor smacked me right between the cheeks while sucking back a Gatorade after yet another three kilometre climb in the smelter-like sun. As a guy who has helped build two prosperous enterprises from less than zero, and is just being introduced into the wonderous up-and-down world of long-distance cycling, the similarities between the two are striking.

To explain, consider that Tuscany cycling offers you three choices of direction:

  • The strain of Uphill
  • The ease of Downhill
  • And the relative peace of the Straightaway

Let's look at all three...plus a couple of added bonus observations.

UPHILL
To me, Uphill can be likened to being a start-up or being embroiled in some sort of crisis; your full focus is given to getting to the point where it's not so hard anymore.

Going Uphill, you don't even notice the gorgeous view, your surroundings, or even the passage of time. You just put your head down and concentrate almost exclusively on pumping your legs until you reach the top. Your speed is consistent, your movement a little wobbly, and if you don't keep going, you're gonna fall over.

DOWNHILL

Compare that to the ease of flying Downhill, which I liken to a business that's doing so well it almost runs itself. Effortless, you almost feel like a passenger...but this is where the most dramatic and costly mistakes can be made and your best chance for a sobering crash. The ride almost becomes too easy. You think you're invincible, get cocky and take your eyes off the road.

Watch out. Flying Downhill, the road can change at any second. Cars pull out of hidden driveways. People and animals pop out from nowhere. That Downhill path can be interrupted violently at any time by things you cannot see. Enjoy the ride, but don't forget to anticipate what may be lying in wait.

THE STRAIGHTAWAY

Then there's the all-too-rare Straightaway. It's not nearly as exhilarating as the Downhill rush of a booming biz, but also not as exhausting as the Uphill pull of a start-up or a crisis.

The Straightaway is where effort and reward are at their most equal. The goal here is one of efficiency. You don't want to exert one more iota of energy than you need to. Operation of the machine--in my case now, my gearing mechanism-- at its optimum level is paramount. The Straightaway gives you the most time to think, plan and prepare for one of the two extremes you just know are coming.

ROAD CONDITIONS

Let's take the analogy one step further by examining the road conditions themselves. Doesn't matter what direction you're going--Uphill, Downhill or Straightaway--the make-up of the road is usually the primary deciding factor in the enjoyment of your journey. Out another way, road conditions are like the people you work with, and the way they work together.

A paved road is like a true, trustworthy team; all working together to make your ride a pleasant one. Everything works better--grip, gear shifting, mood--when the road beneath you is smooth.

On the other hand, rocky roads are just that. Yeah, they may hide behind the sexy Italian alias "Strada Bianca," but on dysfunctional, uneven, sand-and-stone terrain, you're on your own at all times. Uphill is suddenly twice the effort, Downhill almost works against you, and even the steady flow of the Straightaway can be upended in a Tuscan second by a mere, nastily-placed pebble. Treachery abounds in every direction.

Trouble in the office? Forget the corporate shrink or consultant. Instead, invest in some molten blacktop...and a steamroller.

ONE FINAL NOTE

So there you have it. Roadside wisdom from the gates of Volterra. To close, one last comparison between business and cycling:

No matter how good you are at what you do, from time to time, you will still have to deal with a little pain in the ass.

Enjoy the ride!