I’m coming up on my 10-year anniversary, Juneteenth — Emancipation Day. It was a beautiful, Colorado Rockies morning, just west of Carbondale, down the mountain from Aspen on the glorious Crystal River road (Hwy 133). I failed to brake soon enough at a hard left turn at the bottom of McClure Pass (see below), and launched a brand-spanking new, rented Harley-Davidson Road King into the aspens and hammered my left shoulder into the roadside wild flowers.
Blunt force trauma. Fifteen fractures, including six ribs and a clavicle and some chipped vertebrae. The Glenwood Springs ER administered a Fentanyl epidural (at T8, after I nearly passed out from pain on the MRI table) and sorted me out. The follow up, typical of shattered ribs, is six weeks on an Oxycontin base with the occasional Percocet chaser after any kind of cough or incentive spirometer therapy — inhale as much as you can, and suck up the pain (pun intended).
Fortunately, I was armored-up, with a rash-proof jacket and spine and elbow pads and a helmet (which was egg-shelled).
The clavicle was fixated with a titanium rod (still there). A year later, three ribs were pinned together with titanium couplings because the fractured ends would not rejoin. A day or so after that surgery, a journeyman orthopedist yanked out my chest tube with that modest “This might sting a little (wink wink!).” warning. It felt a lot like the original crash!
All because I did two things explained by a crusty old hog rider I met a few years later at a bar, savoring a Margarita (Top Shelf, rocks, no salt). He wagged his tattoo-knuckled finger at me and admonished, “Two things you don’t mix together on cycle at the same time: An unfamiliar bike with an unfamiliar road. You can squeeze by on either one of them — you know the road but not the bike, or you know the bike and not the road. But never both.” I was on a rented touring-size bike on a road I’d only dreamed about.
How pitch-perfectly true. Rider error. No excuses.
It occurred to me this morning, while enjoying that same mountain air in Glenwood Springs — where the Roaring Fork River joins the high-country Colorado River downstream from Vail — that the same two principles apply when leading our company on some new venture (adventure?): We shouldn’t attempt it if we’re unfamiliar with where we’re going (the road) — confidence isn’t enoigh, or the team (the bike) we’re making the journey with.
I see this a lot with the companies we triage. The leader sets the ‘capability goal’ aggressively enough to challenge the business model to go somewhere new and interesting. Like growing 2 or 3X. He or she is usually familiar with their team, but may not really know the road; what life at 2 or 3X; really runs. (Hint: Your culture may keep, but about everything else may change.)
This presses the case to on-board executive or technical experts who know the road, and what changes as we scale up. For one thing, processes start happening. Once simple, straightforward work gets divided into silos to be more efficient. These silos create workflow queues that require management — process management. But that takes supervisor labor (overhead) that costs more cash — but we’re making more cash so maybe it works. Or maybe it doesn’t, and we need to swap capital for labor, or partner and outsource — things to pay attention to.
The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know as we take our team to a new scale — this new exciting road. And what we don’t know might nearly kill us. The most successful leaders I know have relationships in a network of executives who run enterprises the size they seek, such as Vistage International, a peer advisory association. (Disclaimer: I’m on the Vistage guest speaker circuit).
So, know your team and know the road.
p.s. I personally thank every cyclist I meet who’s wearing a helmet.