Saturday, July 24, 2004

Learning from Lance - Part Deux

To continue what I started...  if it's not just about the technical skill, where does consistent success come from?

Assuming that Lance crosses the finish line tomorrow in the final stage ending along le Champs Elysées, (and he's careful enough about such things that there's no reason he shouldn't), it's practically assured that Lance will take home his sixth Yellow Jersey, an unprecedented accomplishment, all the more impressive because he will have done it all in consecutive years.

While Lance has improved the standing of the sport with the American public, his story is not the only impressive one out there. Jan Ullrich continues to be a formidable force to watch. I find myself curious about what role Andreas Klöden will play next year. Ivan Basso seems to be coming into his own. Tyler Hamilton continues to astound me even though he pulled out of this year's Tour... and even though Thomas Voeckler lost the white jersey today, who couldn't help but be impressed by his efforts and all that he accomplished, sometimes on nothing more than sheer guts and determination?

If you watched any of this year's Tour de France, you would have had an opportunity to see just how much the entire US Postal Team contributed to Lance's (and their own) success and there's a lot of good stuff there to mine for lessons about business and life itself. Here are some more of my attempts at connecting the dots...

  • Assemble a great team - This year, as in other years, there is more than one member of the US Postal team who is capable of being a star in his own right. These guys really know what they're doing and they focus all their attention and energies on helping Lance succeed.
  • Give your team something worthwhile to work for - One thing I keep hearing is that the work of a supporting cast member for a team like Lance's is rewarding enough to be playing second fiddle... and it must be true to have attracted top talent like they have. Team success, individual success when it is consistent with the team goal, a share of the financial rewards of success & recognition are all some of the possibilities I can think of that might be the motivators for these guys - someone has figured out what makes it worthwhile to the riders themselves because we've seen every stage of the Tour where they give nothing less than their best.
  • Instill confidence - One of the things that really amazed me throughout the tour was how much easier it must have been for the US Postal team to have devoted single-minded effort into supporting Lance, knowing that he was capable of doing what he set out to do... compared with how troubled the T-Mobile team had to have been with Ullrich struggling to stay in the running. Here we are on the eve of the final "just make sure you cross the finish line" stage, and Ullrich as team leader is more than two and a half minutes behind one of his own teammates. It's tough to know as an outsider and a non-competitive cyclist what the dynamics actually look like on that team right now but I have to guess that a willingness to support the leader and get the team where they collectively want to be has to suffer in a situation like that.
  • Work on the teamwork - A singleminded willingness to work for the good of the team doesn't by itself guarantee success. Lance and his team have clearly prepared heavily for the most foreseeable situations, developed a comprehensive plan and practiced their individual roles in the execution of that plan as much as they needed to until they were able to execute it nearly flawlessly. Every time Lance was led by and surrounded by his guys in blue, you saw it in action and it most definitely worked.
  • Control the pace - By making it their game instead of someone elses, Lance's team controlled the field and made it more likely their guy was going to be the one to come out on top
  • Be willing and able to do the hard work yourself - Lance has great support from his team and he could not possibly achieve the success that he does completely on his own, but he also knows there comes a time when he has to be the one out in front doing the heavy lifting and he has to do it alone.
  • Know who your real adversaries are - Along with the other A-list cyclists, Lance (mostly - okay, he's definitely not perfect) doesn't waste his time or energy chasing down riders who aren't in a position to affect his own standings or the success of his team.
  • Work with a great advisor - One of Lance's keys to success is that he has Johan Bruyneel, a coach who understands him completely and also understands the challenges he faces. Johan is a friend, a confident, a sounding board and an advisor who ensures Lance and the rest of his team are at the top of their form on race day. At least part of his top-notch performance comes from the outside perspectives Lance gets from Bruyneel.

That's probably more than enough for now though with input from others, I definitely have more to add to the list. If you'll send your ideas to I'll make room for those as well.

What's one thing you could do to improve your own chances of success?

Friday, July 23, 2004

Learning from Lance

Yesterday's Stage 17 was sure something, wasn't it? I continue to be amazed at what these guys are able to pull off. And of course I also continue to apply what I see on le Tour (as I do with everything) to other aspects of my life. It strikes me that there is a lot to be learned about the business world from watching Lance Armstrong.

I actually wrote out a giant list of exactly that yesterday - it wasn't meant to be comprehensive but it was a pretty fair list, I thought. Well, apparently that didn't need to go out to everyone yesterday because after spending an hour and a half writing, it all went into the ether, instead of into the ethernet. Not that I'm bitter, mind you. Not at all (said through gritted teeth). Okay, maybe a little. But I'm figuring out how to make lemonade out of the carnage and I'm working on trusting that what will come out instead as a replacement will somehow be better. I haven't figured out how yet but that's what I'm shooting for!

For starters, how about I just write out a few things at a time and spread it out over a few days, eh? Shorter and easier for you to read anyway I guess. Of course, it means that a lot will probably have to wait until long after we know the outcome of this year's Tour de France. Hopefully that will be okay for all of us.

So the first thing I remember being such a powerful insight is that watching Lance and US Postal, it is abundantly clear to me that technical ability is not enough... it's just a ticket to play, is all it is. In cycling, if riding a bike well was good enough, Jan Ullrich would have many more titles than he has ('97 was his only win). In fact, that would still be true if strength, guts, and determination were "all" that it takes. Ullrich has the legs, the power and some level of will & drive. He's often regarded as one of the better bike handlers too. But Lance has won le Tour more times than Jan and at this point, it is still uncertain whether Ullrich can even pull off another second place finish.

If it's not all about the technical ability, what else is needed to win consistently? That's the part I want to try to recapture - perhaps you can help me rebuild my list. The address to use is still and it'd be great to hear from you about your ideas on the matter.

What, besides your technical abilities do you bring to the table in your life and work... and what else could you use that would help you be more successful?

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Living Strong

I'm still completely enthralled with Tour de Lance - I mean, Tour de France. It's a great story of human challenges and triumphs... and today was a great stage what with spectacular performances on the individual time trials on l'Alpe d'Huez. 

I'm sorry Tyler Hamilton is out; sorrier still that he's lost his dog, Tugboat, a long-time companion. It's probably been a rough week for him and he really does seem like a class act. Fortunately, anyone who can ride an entire Tour with a broken collarbone probably has what it takes to get through just about any adversity so I feel comfortable (and I don't even really know the guy though it turns out there are only a couple of degrees of separation there) that he'll be able to get through this too.

And while it probably has been a tough week of another kind for Voeckler, I do hope he still feels good about what he's accomplished, wearing the Yellow Jersey for as many days as he has, especially since he kept it for a good two days longer than even the most the most stretched imaginations could suggest was possible.

One of the sidebar items of interest to me are the numbers of people who are wearing Lance's Live Strong yellow bracelets. They're easy to get ($1 is cheap and you can pick them up from NikeTown or order them online), easy to wear, easy to spot and go for a great cause. What's not to like? I figure they've become a meme, they're getting so ubiquitous. Heck, even cyclists on other teams (Virenque, Basso, Zabel and O'Grady, to name just a few) are wearing them!

It rather makes me wonder what small-seeming, otherwise worthwhile ideas I've been harboring that could be turned into "idea viruses", given the right push. You probably have a few too. Who's to say at the outset whether they're ideas that capture everyone's attention and are ripe for becoming as commonplace as the yellow wristbands or whether they are ideas that take shape in a much smaller scale? For now, it's enough to simply begin taking action, breathing life into them so that they become something real and not just an idea locked in somebody's head.

As one friend quoted to me today, "There is magic in action." There is no need to gather more information, get permission or "how-to's" from someone else you assume to be more an expert than you are; there is only the need to do one thing that carries your idea forward into the realm of reality... and then one more thing and then one more. Like the stories of Stone Soup, when you start taking action, others will want to help out. You'll know if you have an idea that will take off - others will get excited, perhaps even looking to you to lead them. What a great place to be.

My challenge to you is to Live Strong in your own way. Define it for yourself and then make it happen. If it involves drafting others into your cause and making it real for more than just yourself, so much the better. Let me know at what you're up to and how you're making your world a better place.

Try something new - try living your life "out loud."

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

King of the Hill

It seems there are others out there who share my interest in the Tour de France. While watching for Lance is an extra bonus because what he's attempting to do is so momentous I find that having watched the Tour for several years now, he's not the only rider I recognize and follow.

There are other names that crop up from time to time that I know now too. Richard Virenque is one. He pulled off a breakaway in Stage 10 today, gathering up all the King of the Mountain points and taking not only the Polka Dot Jersey but also the stage win as well.

That's one of the things I think is so interesting about the Tour... there are so many kinds of winners. Best time overall gets the Yellow Jersey. Points are awarded for sprints and the rider with the most points gets the Green Jersey. And don't forget the White Jersey for the best young rider under the age of 25. Which jersey most represents your attitudes about life and work? Are you a specialist at flat-out sprints... do you love the challenge of overcoming the toughest obstacles... or do you want to be best all-around at both? At the end of the day do you want to come home with a win even if it's fleeting... or would you rather let others take the early wins so you can come home as the winner overall?

Do you watch the Tour too or is it something you can't stand? Either way, I'm sure you won't be the only one and it would be fun to have you share your point of view with me at so I know whether to spend more time on this topic.

Where do you shine?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Create a Winning Strategy

I'm watching Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France these days. Clearly it's hard work and requires a huge amount of physical and emotional preparation along with sheer willpower to muscle through such and event. It also requires sound strategies well thought out ahead of time and quick thinking in the field to adapt to unforeseeable conditions.

While I can't begin to guess at most of the strategies Lance uses in the Tour, it's obvious that he uses some basic thinking as his foundation and then adapts as needed as conditions warrant. Pacing himself is part of it. So is staying out of trouble. He works at being "good enough" a lot of the time and saves his energy for where he really shines... and then pours everything he's got into it.

It strikes me there's plenty to learn from those strategies and apply to other situations, including business. What preparations have you made to deal with what's foreseeable - what are your strategies? How do you adapt them when conditions aren't "normal"?

What did you do today to ensure you'll still be "in the race" tomorrow?