The last time I posted on this blog, I talked about a lesson I learned on one of my daily bicycle rides last week. On today’s ride, I learned about change.
I follow a route that takes me up a gradual, six-mile climb, and then I turn around and go home the same way. It’s not steep enough to coast, but if I peddle hard, I can average better than 35 mph coming back. For a wanna-be cyclist like me, that’s what it’s all about.
As I started the ride this afternoon, I noticed that I was making great time. Within six minutes I passed a land-mark that usually takes me eight minutes to reach. I gave myself a psychological pat on the back and told myself that my daily workouts were paying off. I reached the turnaround point a full five minutes ahead of my normal time.
As I turned to go home, I realized why I had made such good time. The wind, which was now in my face, had been at my back on the way up. Despite going down hill, the ride home was painfully slow. I ended up completing the trip one minute slower than usual.
In retrospect, I realize that when the wind was at my back, I never felt it. I assumed my improved performance was due to my skills and abilities. It was only when I changed direction that I felt it. But that’s typical of change. When times are good, we assume it’s because we are talented, we are good workers, or we’re just lucky. We don’t feel the wind on our backs so we take credit for our good fortune. It’s when things change, when the market shifts, when demand for our products goes down, or when the economy craters, that we realize the wind had been at our backs and we never knew it.
In his compelling book, Only The Paranoid Survive, ex-Intel CEO Andy Grove pointed out that it pays to be a little paranoid in business, because you never know when your market is going to shift. He called these changes “strategic inflection points.” I call them “shifts in the wind.” Whatever the term, the lesson is clear. Don’t get too comfy with the way things are, because you never know when the wind at our backs will become the wind in our faces.