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Thoughts on Athletic Performance, Coaching and Your Business

Jan 12, 2018 | By Steven Burns, FAIA | 0 Comments

Topics: Business Development

For the past 4 months, I have been working with a personal athletic coach, and the gains in my performance have been stunning. While this journey isn’t related to my professional life, it has left me wondering about how what I’ve learned can be applied to business. So, hear me out.

Back in 2012, I got hooked on the sport of ultracycling. For those of you unfamiliar with it,  it’s basically an ultra-endurance race that pushes you beyond what you consider achievable. The length of the race is no less than 200 miles and can go well beyond that. I fell in love with spending 12-40 non-stop hours sitting in the saddle. However, by the end of 2015, after three years of intense ultracycling, I was burnt out.

The prior year I had completed more than 26 ultracycling races, including 2 of the biggest: the Silver State 508 and the Hoodoo 500. Both of these races are more than 500 miles of non-stop cycling through some of the most grueling terrain and weather conditions. In 2015 I dropped down to 4 events. By the end of 2016, I lost my passion for the sport.

I finally quit in the middle of a 400 mile race in early 2017. I was in the California desert outside of Borrego Springs approaching the Salton Sea. It was 110 degrees, I was disgusted with my performance, and I had no idea why anyone would do this to themself. I threw my bike down in the middle of the steaming black asphalt road and sat down in the sand, waiting for my crew chief to pick me up and take my humiliated and defeated body back to the finish line in a civilized, air-conditioned SUV.

At this point, let’s stop for a moment and think about you and your firm. Let’s say you started the business and your first few years were extraordinary. You were working 16-hour days and loving every minute of it. Sure, it was hard, but it was exciting and you were really growing and learning. However, at some point (years later), you probably felt burnt out. You were wondering if you picked the wrong profession. Was it really worth it? Did you even like your clients, your projects, your colleagues?

I’m sure if any of you are founders of a firm, or even just professionals who have spent many years in your industry, you can relate to this feeling of disenchantment.

How do you find your way back? That’s the purpose of this thought exercise.

After 5 years, I hated the sport which I once loved and worked so hard on. I doubted my skills and wondered why the hell would any sane person wake up at 4 AM on Saturday mornings to ride 400 miles on a bike. What could possibly be gained by such a bizarre sufferfest?

So I quit cold turkey. For 7 months I didn’t ride my bike. I slept late on Saturdays. I spent more time doing fun things with my wife on the weekends. I gained 16 pounds.

But something in my life was missing. There was this nagging feeling that maybe the problem wasn’t with the crazy sport, but with me. It occurred to me that the reason I became disenchanted was because as I rode less, I lost fitness. If you’re not physically up to the challenge, the suffering is intense. I had gone from being ranked 19th in the world in 2014 (in the Ultra Marathon Cycling Association) to barely able to complete 200 miles without incredible suffering. I realized it was my lack of fitness that made me hate my sport.

Since I was riding less in 2015, it meant that when I did go out for an event, I wasn’t well prepared. My results were bad and I wasn’t having fun being in last place and in pain. Every rise in the road was dreaded, the slightest headwind crushed my confidence since I couldn’t break through. When you are ill-prepared, so many things go wrong.

Since I recognized the problem was my lack of fitness, I hired a personal coach. What happened next was so amazing that it got me thinking about what might happen if every business owner had someone to monitor them, steer them, and cheer them on.

Basically, here is how it worked: My coach first gave me an extensive interview. He needed to understand my objectives, my past experiences, my style, my health, my equipment, and lots of other minor details that gave him a comprehensive picture of where I’d been, where I wanted to go, and what tools I had to help me get there. I also explained that one of the factors he needed to accommodate was having one free weekend day to spend with my wife and family. But I did tell him that I could dedicate 20 hours per week to training.

He prepared a training program that involved me riding 6 mornings per week. Some mornings were hard interval training regimens ranging from 90 minutes to 3 hours, and other days were 45-minute recovery rides. He never made the trainings so difficult that I would fail. Or, if I missed the goal, it was so close that I felt if I tried just a little harder I could have made it. As my fitness improved each week, he increased the level of difficulty knowing that I would be able to succeed. Each week I became stronger and enjoyed riding more and more as I could see myself improving.

If you’re not a cyclist, you should know that there’s a lot of data captured during training rides. I wear a heart monitor and my bike is equipped with a computer and power meter. These tools capture the amount of wattage I’m producing through my pedal strokes, the speed I’m traveling, the temperature, my cadence (pedal strokes per minute), my training stress score, the intensity factor, and so much more. It’s really a data geek’s playground to see all the information that can be garnered from cycling.

One of the more interesting data sets that is used is the comparison of  my performance to that of other similar cyclists. I can rate myself against athletes in my age group or all other cyclists regardless of age or sex. While it’s always encouraging to see how I am improving based on my past performance, seeing how I compare to other similar cyclists is even more motivating.

Similarly, our business solution, BQE CORE, is fantastic at capturing your firm's data and reporting on employee, project. client and vendor performance. But how compelling would it be if you could see how your firm stacks up against other similar companies?

Today, through business intelligence (BI) and artificial intelligence (AI), there are tools at our disposal to report back to us and guide us toward improvement and excellence. What would you do with capabilities like that?

What if we provided metrics which showed you where your firm was headed should you continue to perform as you have over the past 7, 14, 28, or 90 days?

What if we compared you to other businesses in your industry with the same number of employees and let you know how you ranked?

What if we told you the profit margins other firms were achieving?

What if you knew the utilization and realization rates for the employees of similar rank in other companies?

What if you knew where your salary levels ranked as compared to those of other firms?

What if we provided you with a virtual coach that could point out where opportunities for improvement exist within your business?

Right now, this is just a concept. But it’s rooted in very real capabilities that CORE already has.  And after seeing how in fewer than 5 months I’ve gone from last place to the top 1%, I think we’re on to a great idea.

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The Author

Steven Burns, FAIA

Steven Burns, FAIA, spent 14 years managing his firm Burns + Beyerl Architects. After creating ArchiOffice®, the smart office and project management solution for architectural firms, Steve brought his management expertise to BQE Software, where he is perfecting the business strategy and product development.

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