Everything I Need to Know About Business I Learned On a Run
The human body is incredible.
It can be built, developed, stretched and pushed to accomplish goals and develop a capacity that it never before thought could be possible.
A human organization is no different. It has complex systems, it experiences moments of joy, frustration, energy, and lethargy. A body or an organization that is hyper-focused on a goal can accomplish incredible things over the short term, and if those goals are to be sustained over the long term they require the mutually beneficial, but seemingly opposite qualities: Velocity and Capacity.
That’s what was going through my mind when I was watching the 2019 Boston Marathon this morning (shout out to Kate Gustafson, Steph Corker, Dani Fainer and the whole Mile2Marathon crew for crushing the race). It also reinforced an observation that I had made on one of my own runs over the weekend. I was on a long, slow run where the only intention was to get the body comfortable with ever-increasing distances when it occurred to me that big, audacious goals like running a personal best or growing a business are the result of the velocity & capacity dichotomy.
But progress is simple, right? Go faster, for longer.
What it took me years to learn, in both running and business, is that trying to push both speed and distance at the same time is the slowest way to grow. High performers in each practice know that progress comes from stretching the limits of what’s possible in each direction, one at a time. In order to accelerate progress, it’s just as important to be able to increase the amount of what we can do as it is to improve the speed, or quality of how we do it.
My personal relationship with endurance sports is a conflicted one. I had told myself for years that I hated to run. Training for team sports, running had always been punishment – something to be suffered through until we could get to the good stuff. As a result, when I set the goal of completing a half-marathon back in 2016 I trained the only way that I knew how: I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could, punishing myself towards my objective. Every run was a new test, and each day I either passed or failed based on my own expectations. I trained that way for three years, making slow, incremental improvements along the way, but after doing what I believed was a huge volume of work for very minor gains last year, I knew that something had to change.
Velocity & Capacity in Training
With the help of a coach, I’ve learned to see training sessions not as mini-race tests, but as an opportunity to develop either my velocity or my capacity. Increased velocity comes from pushing my muscles, lungs, and heart right to the limits of what they’re capable of over short distances, then recovering, and then returning right back to that intensity. My body’s learning to adapt both to the speed and to the strain, expanding like a rubber band to allow me to run at that heightened output for longer periods of time. Complementarily, long-run days require “conversational pace,” meaning that I throw my legs into a coasting pace for ever-widening distances.
I never imagined there could be a universe where I’d spend my Sunday doing anything that could be described as an “easy” 20k run.
But here we are. pic.twitter.com/WNEzWaFpvi
— Conner Galway (@Conner_G) April 14, 2019
Now, it’s early days in my training and I am a long way off from the beast-level that the Boston runners achieved this morning, but I’ve already seen a burst out of my previous plateaus in terms of both velocity and capacity. Perhaps of equal importance: training is fun now. Every time I lace up I know exactly what I am building that day, and I understand clearly how it’s laying another brick in the wall of my overall training plan.
The opportunity to apply the principles of velocity and capacity within a business is no different, especially when it comes to a new practice like digital. I’ve been fortunate to advise dozens of organizations as they aspired to break out of their plateaus and accomplish big goals with digital; I’ve guided them as they set organizational objectives, built strategies, onboarded team members, developed better briefs, and ultimately executed at a higher level. It wasn’t until I was in the meditative state of my 18th kilometre on Sunday, that the connection became obvious to me: All of the hard work that we’ve been doing together — the strategy sessions, the training, the planning, then measuring and optimizing all of their hard work — they’re building the very same two things that endurance athletes need to succeed.
The most successful corporate chieftains are marathon runners https://t.co/4CgfAesJI6
— Quartz (@qz) April 15, 2019
Velocity & Capacity in Digital
In a digital context, that duality of velocity and capacity can be defined in a couple of different ways.
In order to achieve business growth targets, we typically need to be able to do two things: get more people aware of who we are and what we’re up to, then convert those people into our community, thereby creating valuable, loyal customers.
- Velocity is our ability to convert – Search Engine Marketing, CTA-driven paid social, email, retargeting, landing pages, etc.
- Capacity is the scale of our reach – Storytelling, content-driven paid social, community outreach, influencer engagements, etc.
In order to execute those tactics, we must have built the internal muscles that will drive us forward.
- Velocity is our skill and creativity – The quality of our content, the precision of our targeting, the value of our relationships
- Capacity is our ability to execute consistently – Are we relying on short-term contracts or agencies? Can our budgets and resources sustain this level of output? Do we have what we need to continue to grow?
As I paced out my final few kilometres, the connections that I had been making solidified and helped to explain much more clearly what we have known all along: Organizations are not just like people, they are people. The very same principles that allow us to push our bodies beyond our limits and stretch our capacities to previously unimagined places can be applied to our teams.
“That’s great Conner,” you’re probably thinking, “but while you’re out running the seawall I’ve got a business to take care of. How can I apply this today?”
That’s the beauty of the velocity vs capacity framework. The way that you apply it is by doing less, better. The hardest part of the process is identifying what that “less” is for you, and then hyper-focusing on it in order to plot how how you’ll build velocity and develop capacity. To simplify the process and make it as easy as possible to implement, we’ve broken it down into the following 6 steps:
- Identify one significant, quantifiable objective that will have a meaningful impact on your organization by a certain date.
- Write down the things that need to happen in order to make that objective happen.
- Categorize each of those sub-objectives into either Capacity-building (creating awareness, building the brand, cultivating a community) or Velocity-driving (website traffic, ecommerce conversions, retail visits).
- Focus only on Capacity – what are the tools, resources, skills and practices that you need to build towards your objective?
- Focus only on Velocity – what are the tools, resources, skills and practices that you need to build towards your objective?
- Open up your calendar and go through the next three months, breaking them up into two-week chunks, then set alternating targets: How can you stretch your Capacity? Then stretch your Velocity, and back again.
The exact time frames will be different for every business, and what will always be true is that pushing yourself and focusing in one direction at a time will always multiply the growth and the progress that you will have made when you look back at the end of that three month period.