This June will mark 4 years since I took on the audacious challenge of completing my first full Ironman triathlon in the South of France. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to cross the finish line albeit in a tortoise-like time of nearly 14 hours.
It still feels like a fluke that I completed the task, and I don’t put myself in the category of the true Ironman athletes that seem to have this epic race down to a fine science.
Breakdown of the race
The race which takes place in Nice, France every year in June breaks down as follows:
You begin with a 3.8km open water swim starting from the beach in the Mediterranean. They have it structured so that you complete two giant loops.
The bike course runs 180km with an immediate 3,600 ft ascent into the Alps followed by a quick descent back into the city.
The race is completed with 4 laps along the Promenade in Nice totaling 42.2km.
As mentioned previously, I am a complete amateur when it comes to challenges like this one. But the lessons learned which I apply daily in the business world are priceless.
1. Focus on small daily habits without losing sight of the big picture
We operate 4 businesses comprised of selling and servicing various equipment, as well as a 3D Print manufacturing business. Very few days in our world are the same, and it makes for a very dynamic environment to work in every day.
Our primary tool that we use to help execute daily, and meet our clients’ ever changing needs is an agile approach sometimes referred to as scrum. All this means is that we work in 2 week sprints, focusing on projects that will deliver maximum value in the marketplace.
How it works:
We work in cross functional self-managed teams of 4-6
At the start of each two week sprint, we select and define a handful of stories which have been prioritized and defined, and which we think we can accomplish within that two week period.
Daily stand-up meetings (these are the swim strokes)
Following that we meet every morning, same place, same time for no more than 15 minutes to check in on daily progress.
These daily meetings are the swimming strokes where we try daily to perfect our technique, minimize effort finding that path of least resistance (often through automation, and leveraging already proven methods).
Sprint retrospectives (This is where you sight your course)
At the end of each sprint, we review the work that has been completed. We have been following this method for nearly two years now, and in that time I have observed a common area where teams struggle. They focus on the daily swim strokes, but forget to look up at the target, see if anything has changed, reposition based on new information and course correct.
If you focus, just on “Getting things done” every day, but forget to pick your head up and reorient yourself often, there is a very good chance that you could be swimming in the wrong direction.
2. Don’t underestimate the importance of morale
Hopping on a bike for 7 hours after a 3.8km swim is a hard thing to wrap your head around. I can’t imagine completing this task without having a solid mindset in tact.
The only way, I could overcome this challenge was to keep my attitude in check, focusing on gratitude, and a little bit of dishonest self-talk. Mantras like “I feel amazing” or “this road is gorgeous” or “man am I lucky to be biking in France” got me through 7 grueling hours in the mountains.
The same holds true in our workplace. We start our meetings off with a positive focus, sharing good news or small wins. Another way that we keep our morale in check is through peer driven micro-bonuses. Our teams each receive 50 points every month which can be spent on team members when they demonstrate any of our core values. Points can then be used to buy things like Amazon gift cards or company swag. (We use a tool called bonus.ly – definitely worth checking out)
Cultivating a positive mindset helps get us through any challenge that comes our way.
3. Focus on progress not perfection
9 hours into the race I dismounted off my bike, and wearily changed into my runners to take on the last part of the race which was the marathon. I can remember seeing people on the side of the course in stretchers getting treated for exhaustion and feeling envious of them getting to lay down. At this point of the race, I probably drank a liter of Coke just to keep myself conscious. There was only one tactic that kept me moving forward, and that was to focus on one step at a time.
Every step forward represented progress, and I knew that if I could continue putting one foot in front of the other, eventually I would make it.
The same is true in business. Many days are going to be a challenge, and in the moment your goals may seem completely unlikely and irrational. As a result, we keep our daily goals small and focus on progress not perfection. If you’ve taken one step forward it’s been a good day.