Austin Jarrett, CEO of Midlands-based SSC Laser, has recently returned from a self-supported 250km race across the Namibian desert in Southern Africa. Here he shares how he takes lessons in business from this seemingly crazy sport.
I love to run. It is my passion. I particularly like to run long distances in really challenging environments. The hottest deserts, the Arctic Circle, Jungles, mountains. That sort of thing. Add to that tough environment, a back-pack with everything I need for 5 days, extreme remoteness and a few gnarly competitors, and I am feeling really excited. The older and slower I get, and the trickier the terrain and conditions become it actually gives me a better chance of getting on the podium. The sense of achievement, for me, is very satisfying.
Running these distances gives me a lot of time to think, and I often reflect that the things which I love about extreme endurance racing, also extend to business and that there are many shared lessons. I started my first business 27 years ago from my mother’s kitchen table. Resilience has been a recurring theme in that long commercial journey, too. There are many similarities between my approach to training and competing in these races and to the business which also thrills me and which I am equally passionate about.
Extreme running and business are very real, raw and exciting to me; and relatively simple – but neither are easy. Races and deals come and go; won and lost. There really are no finish-lines. The race ends, the running doesn’t.
Here are 6 simple things which I have developed over the years which have helped me tremendously in both of my life-long passions.
Just keep moving forward…
When you are running in tough conditions, and you are exhausted, thirsty, cold, hot, wet through or gasping for breath at 4000 metres altitude, there are times when you want to give up. It’s natural that there are times when, in your head, there are voices, persuasive voices, which can list the many reasons why it would be the best thing just to throw in the towel and give up. After all, who would say that it isn’t the sensible thing to do?
Of course, the race cannot be won if you withdraw. And this has crossed my mind many times. It’s actually completely normal. The secret to these long races is that you just have to keep moving forward. You have no idea what your competitors are going through. Stay in the race, keep moving and it’s surprising what happens to them along the way.
It’s the same in business. Not everything goes your way. You lose the big deal. A key employee decides to change their career path or the news that your customers just don’t like the latest product you’ve developed over the last two years. Just give up. Stop trying to be innovative or grow your business. It’s the easiest option…right? Or get going. Walk or crawl if you have to. But finish the damned race for any chance of success.
Keep smiling. There’s nothing intimidates your competitors and adversaries more than making it look easy.
It doesn’t matter how much pain you are in (and blisters are a real test), what’s pain anyway? I find that my competitors will often think that what I am achieving is easy. It isn’t. But there is nothing more de-motivating for them than being overtaken by a smiling, polite competitor. There is a particular mindset that stops that competitor from ever catching you up. And be sure that you don’t have that mindset either.
Have a plan….but be ready to change your plan. Things happen.
I always have a plan for the race ahead of me. It’s much easier than a business plan in that I don’t have to get tiers of busy management, and their teams, to have to buy-in to your vision in order to deliver success. But things happen during a race that calls for a change in the plan. Torrential rain causes muddy trails, floods make rivers deeper, it’s hotter than expected, stomach problems, rocky terrain. There is no failure in changing a plan. My plan might have been wrong, the environment may have unpredictably changed; it doesn’t matter. Change the plan quickly, and get on with the race.
I’m lucky enough to meet lots of business people. The main difference I find between a small businessman with a static business and someone running a large and growing business is their level of positivity. The small businessman is moaning about his staff, his bank, his customers, his competitors’ prices. Moaning doesn’t put any of this right, just like it doesn’t make the next hill or river crossing you can now see disappear when your legs are crying out to stop. Moaning is just a list of excuses and problems that you are not prepared to take responsibility for. Suck-it-up, buttercup. Get on with the job. Positivity in itself doesn’t cure anything, we know. But it really helps if you can visualise what the finish-line is going to feel like when you get there. You just need to figure out what needs to be done in a positive-thinking environment…and start now.
You can’t run 250km without training. It doesn’t matter what you want to achieve in running or business, you just need to prepare effectively. Hundreds of miles of training, racing and testing all the kit you need are necessary, and anyone can compete in these endurance races providing they prepare with 100% commitment. I don’t see anything different in business. You just have to research the race you choose, and even if it was previously beyond your wildest dreams, do the right preparation and get on with the training. Not a single runner turns up to the start-line and pins that race number to their shirts without thinking they could have trained a little harder, but most of us know if we deserve to be there.
If there is no pain, then you are not running hard enough.
If you run a 250km race through the Arctic with snowshoes on, or in the Jungle with your running shoes full of mud and blisters you are going to experience some pain. And if you are not, then quite simply, you are not running hard enough. Getting the best position you can possibly achieve means that you have to push yourself to the limit. It’s important not to push beyond that limit or you find yourself in the medics’ tent connected to a saline drip. If you want your business to grow profitably, I believe there is that same ‘sweet spot’ where the business and people are pushed to a place of discomfort in order to get the business to change and adapt to a changing and ever more competitive world. It’s painful, but get used to it. It’s OK. It’s as it should be or you are not making enough progress.
Starting and managing a business is a really tough thing to do. Running after a hard day in the office is what keeps me sane and more level-headed in my work and family life. But the resilience and strength required for both business and long distance running is unquestionable, in my opinion. But the resilience and strength required for both business and long distance running is unquestionable, in my opinion. And for my final cliché, if there is no pain, there is no gain.