Chris Brogan’s “While the Iron is Hot” post on pushing harder yesterday reminded me how I’ve used this very same strategy to transcend limitations not only in business, but in various aspects of life.
Back in college (a looooong time ago), I raced bicycles. I wasn’t very good, but I loved it. And, unlike most other riders, the thing I liked best was the very part of the race most others loathed.
Climbing. The longer, the nastier, the better.
Every year, our team would ride this race up around Cornell University, just outside of Ithaca, NY. What made it so hard was that it was packed with giant hills. Not short sprinty ones, but big, meaty, meandering, never-ending monsters. Every peak was a false one, every turn opened up to the next leg of a climb. And, we had to do 3 laps on this course.
For me, the first lap was about feeling out the course and the competition.
I didn’t push that hard, just tried to learn the road and stay in the pack. On each hill, I’d count the turns and peaks, so I knew what was coming next time around. I’d suss out how those around me approached the hills and noticed most people started hard, then lost steam around the top third of the climb.
From that point on, I began to get my evil on…in a good way.
In the second lap, I’d start into a climb at a moderate to slow pace, conserving energy. Halfway up the climb, when everyone else was starting to feel the burn, I’d start to turn it on. When nobody was looking, I’d grunt, pant and scream, but as soon as a rider appeared ahead of me, everything would change.
When I was within about 20 feet, I’d slow down my breath, put a smile on my face, sit down on the saddle and look up (a sign of not working too hard) and hammer. My goal was to pass each rider, while faking relative ease. Then, as I approached the peak, where most others were one pedal-stroke from puking, I’d start to really turn it on. Trust me, I felt just like them, my thighs were screaming in pain and on occasion I puked myself, but instead of slowing down in anticipation of a long decent…
I stood up on the pedals…and as Gary Vaynerchuck says, “bled through my eyeballs.”
One, I knew I could square my lead.
A huge descent lay just on the other side of the climb and I’d have plenty of time to recover. I also knew that my speed would be much more closely matched to everyone else on the downhill. So if I could place myself ahead of the other riders before cresting, I could carry that lead with minimal exertion while I recovered on the downhill. Plus, if I doubled my speed at the same time they were halving theirs, my lead wouldn’t just be doubled, it’d be squared.
Two, I was playing a nasty psychological game.
I knew that many of the riders who saw me hammering up to the top, picking up speed as I crested and smiling all the way would assume there was just no hope of catching me, so they’d give up. It would demoralize them. So, I’d covertly cough up a lung in the name of brainwashing them into bailing on the challenge and going even slower. And, I have to say, it worked like a charm.
Over time, I began to expand this same strategy out into my entrepreneurial efforts and quickly realized it was an immensely powerful way to excel in business.
Not so much the mind games part, but the pushing hard part.
Actually, the mind games part is still hugely effective, but it tends to gut you psychologically. And, over the last 10 years, a more karmically-minded approach to entrepreneurship has changed the level of aggression that drives me.
It’s no longer about domination, but the chase of impact and excellence.
I’m not looking to break my competitions’ spirit. In fact, I look much more actively to conspire and collaborate, rather than compete. But, the knowledge that often the best time to make the greatest strides in any market is when everyone else is pulling back has stayed with me and informed the way I operate and grow businesses.
I’ll keep pace or build a slow lead, wait until everyone else pulls back then double down on my efforts.
Because I know the edge I get won’t just be doubled, it’ll be squared. Insurmountable. Or, at the very least, substantially more difficult to overcome. So, looking forward to 2010, my question for you is…
Are you ready to double-down while the world makes a phone call?
Love to learn from your thoughts below…
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