Anybody involved in sports training knows that if you want to develop muscles you do so by constantly pushing them beyond their limits. You push weights that are heavier than you have pushed before, the fibres in your muscles break and bleed and you feed them protein to fix them and they become bigger and better than before.  So, nothing is easy, right?

The great squash player and recently retired World Champion and World Number one Peter Nicol was training at his peak by pushing his boundaries too. Like other elite sportsmen and women he followed the theory that your brain has a built-in fail-safe that protects you from over-doing it, that this margin is rather larger than it needs to be.  By ignoring the messages you get from your brain during exercise that tell us mere mortals to ease-off you demonstrate to your brain that you can do more without actually dying. Next time your brain lets you go further before telling you to stop. Well, it worked for Peter!

The business world isn’t much different, Last evening I went out to eat with my son. We found our way to one of those up-scale food courts with a host of trendy restaurants (and inevitably a few less trendy or up-scale ones) and set about making our choice. As it was we ended up at the hand-made burger restaurant and it was great, but during our deliberations we considered (for a nanosecond at least) TGI Friday’s.

I remember Friday’s from when my son was a child (that’s twenty years ago) and we used to go to our local TGI occasionally for a treat. It was always a kid’s place to me, but apart from being about as far away from grown up dining as you could get, then it was new, and funky and they tried. I mention this because yesterday we concluded that TGI Friday’s have committed that unforgivable sin – they are still doing the same old thing!

This is an old chestnut of mine – business success being more about the fact that you are new and different than what that difference is and that once you have established your place on the map with a new formula, you are duty-bound to start looking at improvement or re-invention. However, that’s not quite my main point here.

Last week one of the guys I mountain bike with accused me of being too competitive. I say accused because that’s how he meant his comment to be interpreted, but frankly I was flattered. Personally, I would rarely use the words “too” and “competitive” in the same sentence. His point was that I tend to streak off up hills leaving everyone else behind and disillusioned. Now, I have to say that this isn’t strictly true. In fact there are many of my riding chums that leave me behind in the same way in such circumstances, but as far as the group in question were concerned, I guess my critic was correct – Its all a matter of context and the relative fitness or skills of those who you are riding with at the time. The point I made in reply was that while I’ll buy the “competitive” label its not that I am competing with the guys who are riding with me particularly (although that has been known) I compete with myself, trying to push my limits because, although the view from the top of a climb is always a reward for the effort involved the real point is the challenge of getting there as quickly as I can and quicker than the last time. The fact that I am quicker than you isn’t really a concern to me, but, inevitably if I always approach my rides in this way I’ll improve to the point where I will beat you and ultimately any other challengers every time.

I approach my work in the same way. I start every project with the objective of doing it better than I did last time. Sure I have the competition in my peripheral vision, but I’m focussed on my own Personal Best. As long as I always work that way my performance will improve by increments and when I have been doing it for long enough (and I’ve been at this for a while now) I guess I’ll beat anybody.

Because I work this way I am more than usually irritated by businesses and people who don’t rise to the challenge in the same way. Its perfectly clear to me that once you have a Brand Model to represent your objectives (because a Brand Model will always be the starting point of any business development strategy), if everyone in an organisation approached their work like a body-builder or sports-person their organisation would pretty soon be unbeatable.

This thinking is similar to the 110% philosophy. I heard an American business guru explain this by asking a room full of people what percentage of their objective they thought it was reasonable to achieve. The suggestions were something like 85% or 90%. He then equated this to an airline’s success in delivering passengers to their destination and drove the point home by suggesting that it represented a plane crash every so-many minutes. “So you think that’s acceptable?” he asked. It was a simple next step for delegates to nominate 110% success their objective with the expectation being 100% achievement.

Whichever way you look at it its clear that if you want to succeed you are going to have to put yourself out a bit, aim high, compete with yourself. This is reasonably easy for most senior managers because they have a better perspective of the business. Further down the chain of command though its harder to relate to. That’s where internal marketing, that other message that I keep repeating, comes in. Its the internal marketing that gets your workforce thinking like a body-builder and which provides the incentive. I also feel that a lot of business attach too much importance to what their competitors are doing. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t be interested in the guy down the street, but all too often the performance that competitors achieve becomes your objective and that’s bad for a lot of reasons.

So, if you want your business to succeed you too must remember the lessons of our great sports-people and think like a body-builder focus on your own performance, aim to be better every time and don’t stop when you win – keep at it and make your competitors eat your dust!

Michael Weaver
May 30, 2008

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