[Edit Notes: In a startup, it is easy to lose sight of the target, or become a control freak. Motorcycling teaches you not to, says Samir Bangara in this post. Here’s how.]
Riding keeps me sane. Though not much that I do while I ride can be qualified as sane – perhaps that’s why it has a calming effect.
In the last few years I have spent a fair amount of time riding seriously. Sometimes on a track. There are two things bikers truly love. Going on one wheel and going knee down on a bend. It’s a feeling one can easily get addicted to. In fact that’s what best describes Motorcycling. It’s an addiction.
But motorcycling can teach you a lot about running your startup too. Here are my top 3 lessons
Lesson 1: Turn right to go left! Learn to trust your instincts and turn them into practice:
The first lesson you’re taught when you go through motorcycling school is the concept of Counter Steering – or turning right to go left. It’s the only way to go quick around a corner. And what’s more we’ve done it all our lives while riding a cycle. However, until you really understand what you were doing intuitively and practice it consciously you can’t perfect it. Once perfected, it doesn’t matter who’s going faster than you on the straights, when the corner arrives, you’ll pass them! Get the analogy there?
One man who made billions doing this was Steve Jobs. Most successful people will be described as having good instincts, a ‘pulse’ of the market or an ability to make the ‘right’ calls. They seem to act instinctively on things that most others would have to put a lot of thought into. They learned how to turn right to go left and began to do it at what is described medically as “spinal cord level” – without conscious thought.
Lesson 2: Target Fixation – The bike steers in the direction you look
Isn’t if fascinating to know that your best shot to avoid a major accident when you’re headed too fast towards an unexpected obstacle, is simply to look away-and the bike will magically steer away from it. Focus on the ditch beyond the turn and rest assured that’s where you’ll end up – it’s called “Target Fixation”.
While in startup mode it’s easy to target fixate on competition or obsess about what could go wrong. Focus on the positive, on your plan and magically you will steer towards it. But on the flip side it’s also important not to target fixate on your original plan, to be nimble and flexible. Survival for a startup is often about how quickly it can look for an alternative strategy, route to market or a redesign. Didn’t Whatsapp start off as a status updater service? Pivoting is critical to survival.
Lesson 3: When you know there’s no chance of avoiding it, loosen up and let the bike do its thing
A few months ago I took Sagar, a colleague and bike enthusiast, out on a Sunday ride. I felt obligated to show him a good time (read: ride like jerk). Anyway, we came around a bend at 3 digit speeds and see a massive oil slick in front of us. We were going so fast I didn’t have time to react and didn’t hit the brakes, turn suddenly or do anything drastic. He saw it too. We went through the slick, the rear twitched and we were out of it as quickly as we went into it. Divine intervention? Indeed! But strangely what we did is exactly what they teach you in riding school. The best chance to go through a situation like this is to not over-react. Loosen your body and let the bike just do its own thing. That’s your best shot of controlling the situation – take it easy!
In startup world, there’s a fugly situation every now and then. At these times, it’s best not to overdo anything. There’s a fine line between just letting go (if we had let go then, we’d be sliding through the oil slick) and not overreacting. It’s the latter that’s hard to do but the lifesaver.
Riding teaches me ‘stuff’. There’s much to learn and always a long ride calling.