The Innovative Runner

I have not been able to run much lately and I miss it.  Good ideas seem to flow while I am running. And there are some interesting analogies between running and innovation. Here is what I came up with:

Incremental progress can lead to step-change: When I am running regularly I often get frustrated because I feel like my progress is too slow. Then, unexpectedly, I will shave a chunk off my personal best or add three miles seemingly effortlessly to my long runs. Incremental innovation should not be underestimated – chipping away, slowly but surely, can result in a step change when you least predict it.

Interim milestones help: As a runner I frequently set myself medium to long-term milestones.  Signing up for races is a great way to stay focused. But I find that mini milestones are also important to me. Mid-run I give myself micro-challenges: can I reach that tree ahead before the next car passes me? Can I overtake the pedestrian before she turns the corner? It is my own play on fartlek (speed games). It helps motivate me. I should get better at applying the same mentality to a large complex project: celebrate the mini milestones; use them to strive to do better 

Changing course is hard: Most runners will mentally map out a run before they start. And, with the tools of our time, many of us go further. I use my iPhone runkeeper app to pre-calculate distance, projected time, elevation and even calories burned.  But, to counteract my instinct, I occasionally force myself off-course during a run: an unplanned detour. And I consistently find it incredibly hard. Physically I immediately feel tired. Mentally I feel anxious about the unknown. I need to get better at dealing with the unexpected, embracing the new and adapting to change. I bet I would achieve more if I did.

Celebrate competitions: My personal best times have been achieved in races. Other runners make me up my game. Spectators motivate me. Knowing that my name and a time will be on the race website spurs me on.  Competition works. So, we should celebrate and encourage the innovation challenge competitions that are increasingly characterising global development. They are a great way to raise the bar and to generate new ideas. Check these out: Gates Grand Challenges; Saving Lives at Birth; Nesta’s Centre for Challenge Prizes.

Embrace setbacks: I have lost track of the number of times I have felt like a failure as a runner. The occasions when I have left my flat and my legs just don’t want to run. The times when I have failed to even leave home. The races where the conditions are perfect yet I fail to do well. I have come to accept with my running that on some days I exceed my expectations. There are many more when I feel pretty average. And on others I disappoint myself. I need to realise that the same applies at work. I should celebrate the days I do well yet embrace and learn from my failures.

Set goals but stretch them: I signed up for my first marathon before I started running. I felt like it would encourage me to take it seriously. It worked – I doubt I would have managed to run 26.2 miles four months later had I not. So I definitely respond well to long-term goals. But I also set myself a target time of four and a half hours hours. That target was great to manage my training but perhaps it held me back: I measured myself against a predetermined goal rather than stretching myself to achieve my potential. This reflection reminded me of a rather hard-nosed director I worked for during my banking days. He had a reputation for vastly inflating any target set by his teams. The bank in Egypt had set themselves a target of two thousand new corporate accounts that year and he immediately increased it to ten. His rationale? If they aimed for two they would likely achieve two. If they aimed for ten they could achieve four. There is a middle ground somewhere in that story but I need to remember that “good enough” is not good enough. Our goals must stretch as we improve.

There is no substitute for hard work: Mo Farah put his brilliant Olympic double gold medal down to “hard work and grafting”. And funnily enough the more I train the better runner I become. So, no matter how great an idea is, developing and delivering that great idea will need dedication and hard work.

I need to get running again!


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