The Faster You Go, the More Balance You Get

My lifelong passion for cycling all started with a lesson 45 years ago—one as applicable to success in business as it was to learning to ride a bike. 

Not long ago a friend asked how many century (100+ mile) bicycle rides I had completed in my lifetime. I guessed at least 3 dozen. That number includes three Bay-to-Bay events during which in three successive years I rode the 205 miles from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, to Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, in a single day. It includes several Buff Epics in which a group starts in Boulder, Colorado (Elevation 5,380 feet) and climbs 28 miles to Ward, Colorado (Elevation 9,480 feet) and then rides another 82 miles following the summit. Criterium races, road races, cyclocross races, group rides, mountain bike trips in the Rockies, spring training trips to Indiana’s “Breaking Away” country and the coast of California. Thousands and thousands of miles on my bikes. But first I had to learn how to ride. 

Most of us likely remember our first bike.  Mine was orange, my favorite color.  Its seat was a deep draw steel stamping. It had white plastic pedals and training wheels. It wasn’t free-wheel, meaning it didn’t glide. If I pedaled forward, it travelled forward. If I pedaled backwards the bike travelled backwards. Today’s cycling enthusiasts would call that style of drivetrain a “fixie,” back then it was just a simple kid’s bike, and I loved it.

My cousin Gene lived with us for about a year back then. Following four years in the Navy, he moved the 450 miles or so from his hometown in Southwestern Minnesota to ours in Southeastern Wisconsin to get a new start on life. I was four years old and about the time he moved in I was ready for someone to teach me to ride my bike without training wheels.  Gene took the job. 

We all know the routine. With Gene’s hand on the seat, he balanced the bike upright.  Tentatively I would start pedaling, with him walking behind me. I gained a little speed and he started trotting and encouraging me. “The faster you go,” he would yell, “the more balance you get.” Eventually I would get going fast enough that he couldn’t keep up.  As he released his hand off I would go, for a few pedal strokes. Then, the front wheel would jostle back and forth as I careened this way, then that down the sidewalk, not long thereafter crashing to the ground, skinning a knee or an elbow and picking myself up off the ground. “Ready to try again?,” Gene would ask with a smile. 

“No.”

Until the next day. “The faster you go, the more balance you get.” And the day after, and the next. Before long, I could fly up and down the block on my bike with no help at all, thanks in large part, to my cousin Gene.

The faster you go, the more balance you get. This is certainly true of the physics of riding a bicycle, and of running a business as well.

I’m now on my fourth business, having led an RFID start-up, a custom coater, a surface finishing supplier and now an advanced manufacturing skills training systems company. With every new company, I endeavor to do big things—building on the company’s tradition and taking it in expanded directions,  quickly, accelerating growth and trying my best to make a mark. Each time, about six months in, a team member inevitably says, “We’re trying to do too much, we’re moving too fast.”  My patent response is, “The faster you go, the more balance you get.” 

It always elicits a perplexed look on the part of the person receiving the message, and then I tell the story. I tell them about learning to ride a bike and how, as scary as it was, the faster I could get the bike moving, the easier it was to stay upright. It works in business, too.

A mentor once told me that rapid growth enables us to get away with a lot of mistakes in business. When a business isn’t growing, every miscue takes it backwards, adversely affecting profitability and cash flow, making the mistake stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. Growth covers up the effects of the mistake and prevents us from dwelling on it, enabling us to quickly learn from our errors and to move on.

Moving fast keeps our teams engaged and challenged, it keeps our customers enthused and encourages us to stay on the cutting edge of whatever is driving our market, it requires creativity and innovation – both key to business success. Moving fast confounds our competitors, leaving them wondering how we do it. Most important, moving fast is fun!

On August 6th of this year my cousin Gene lost his battle with cancer, an event which caused me to pause more than just a few times to think about the cycling lesson he taught me so many years ago, and the life lesson that came along with it.

The faster you go, the more balance you get.