The amazing achievement by Eliud Kipchoge – running the marathon in under two hours – is all over the news. And for good reason, the Kenyan three-time Olympic medalist had broken through a barrier many had thought impossible to achieve.
In reality, the dream result was a dream visualized, planned well, supported by innovation and executed flawlessly. There’s obvious parallels here for entrepreneurial business owners, but for now I want to focus mostly on one thing: the surprising effect of reaching an audacious goal.
This latest sporting feat has reminded the world of another historical achievement: the four-minute mile.
When Roger Bannister broke four minutes, he surprised many who speculated that this feat was beyond human potential. More recently, scientific journals have offered that the fastest time humanly possible for the marathon is a couple of seconds under 1:58.
For athletes like Kipchoge and Bannister though, these types of speculations would never get in the way of their ambitions. Once their mind was set on their objective, they pursued it with relentless intent. And like Kipchoge, Bannister had a remarkable journey to prove the doubters wrong.
Following a disappointing result at the 1952 Olympic Games, Bannister initially considered giving up competitive running. After some soul-searching, he was instead able to resolve himself to achieve his audacious goal: being the first person to break four minutes.
Any successful business owner who has faced a setback can relate to this process: self-doubt, followed by a determined resolve. But that determination alone would not be enough for Bannister, and nor is it enough for the entrepreneur.
In the face of that initial setback, and following his resolve to push on, Bannister chose to look for inspiration. He focused on other athletes who had staged similar comebacks. For Bannister this was Sydney Wooderson, a fellow British athlete who held a record time for the mile, was later beaten, but then used that defeat as motivation to come back and set his new record time. Bannister recognized inspirational examples and used them as fuel for his own comeback.
As an entrepreneur, it’s perfectly useful to find inspiration in successful people who’ve overcome similar hurdles to what you may be facing. Note, though, that there’s a difference between being inspired, and finding evidence to replicate. Don’t confuse their inspiring efforts with a prospective method to replicate success. Absolutely, be inspired by their spirit and focus on the broad principles they demonstrate, but don’t expect them to give you a reliable “how to win” methodology. For more on this, read my last article that clears up the difference between inspiring motivation and factual evidence that can be repeated.
To break the 4-minute mile, Bannister knew he needed to select a running-mate. Kipchoge did exactly the same this week, with a team of 41 pace-setters including Olympic gold medallists. “Remember, the 41 pacemakers are among the best athletes ever, in the whole world.” Kipchoge told reporters yesterday. For Bannister’s record, he asked two other world-class runners to set the pace.
In business, you can do the same thing. Find peers with a similar mindset who are also talented, ambitious, and committed to excellent process in their work. These peers can keep you accountable, demonstrate good entrepreneurial form, and help you to set the cadence in your business. I host a small business accelerator, the CORE Marketing Method, and one of the critical benefits of these programs is the chance for entrepreneurs to engage with similarly minded business people who are practicing entrepreneurial excellence in small business.
Bannister and Kipchoge weren’t bound by conventional rules, but were ready to reset the rules to accommodate their goals. For Kipchoge, the record he just achieved won’t be formally recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations as it wasn’t an open event. Likewise, Bannister’s record time was not achieved under normal race conditions. These two athletes didn’t worry about the convention or typical environment, recognizing that the achievement of their goals should be their single focus.
As an entrepreneur, you must be prepared to take an untrod path to your destination. Short of breaking the law or your ethical principles, be ready to bend or break the conventional rules. Change the environment if you need to, by choosing to play in a novel corner of the market or by finding a completely different way to engage with customers (as all the outstanding Direct to Consumer success stories have done). Bold agility is a weapon in the start up and small business armory. No conventional limitation can derail your dream if you refuse to follow convention, and create your own space in which to succeed.
Bannister and Kipchoge recognized that they could find advantage in innovation. For this week’s achievement, Kipchoge wore a new pair of Nike NEXT% running shoes with carbon-fiber plates, and he ran behind an electric car projecting a laser line for him to follow to stay within the record time. Bannister achieved his record on a newly surfaced track in Oxford and relied on newly developed ultralight spikes. In your business, look to create an unfair advantage in reaching your goals. Where can technology provide you an edge? How can you invest in innovating yourself, your systems, or your tools to move you closer? If the goal is worth it, the investment and creativity to innovate is worth it. At the very least, every entrepreneur should commit to a spirit of continual learning and improvement to innovate personally (I recommend looking into Kaizen). If it’s good enough for Bill Gates to keep learning, so can you. When Gates takes two weeks out every year to read and develop his knowledge, this investment theoretically costs him about $110 million in normal earnings. You can afford to invest in your own learning, too.
So, what does all of this have to do with the surprising effect of reaching an audacious goal? It comes down to remarkable phenomena that was demonstrated with Bannister, and I predict will be repeated with this week’s performance by Kipchoge. It’ll also be an important principle in your business.
Achieving the audacious goal redefines what’s possible.
After countless generations of athletes trying to break the 4-minute mile, within two months Lannister turned up to compete at the Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. At the Games, Lannister ran under 4 minutes again, along with his Australian competitor John Landy. More athletes soon matched the time. Within just ten years, high school athlete Jim Ryun would achieve the “impossible” 4-minute mile (and multiple 16 year olds have since run under 4-minutes). Since Bannister redefined what was possible, we’ve seen more than 1,400 runners beat Bannister’s record for the 4-minute mile. We’ve even seen 2 miles run in under 8 minutes.
My prediction is that we’ll see more marathon distances under 2 hours coming very soon. Kipchoge has just proven to runners what they can achieve, and their visualizations just became living and breathing, modeled in front of their eyes. He’s proven what can be done.
In your business, achieving that first audacious goal is important because it opens the door to other huge goals to follow. If you’ve done it once, you’ll know you can do it again. This is the surprising effect of achieving what people thought couldn’t be done: it makes goal achievements happen more often from that point on. Your success will breed more success.
In the CORE Marketing Method, founders and business owners set three Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) that direct their focus for the coming year. What I’ve noticed is that the achievement of that first WIG can feel like an enormous challenge for the business owner. Interestingly, the second one is often achieved soon after, and momentum typically delivers the third, as if by magic. From that point, the entrepreneur becomes confident and internally motivated to achieve annual goals. Even though each subsequent year’s goals might be bigger by magnitudes of order, scaling the business up through multiplication, the CORE Business Owner has proven to themselves that these sorts of goals can be reached, and so they confidently focus and plough ahead. Just like with Bannister, and I predict with Kipchoge, the achievement of an audacious goal paves a way for many more similar breakthroughs in quick succession.
So, think about your own entrepreneurial challenge. Firstly, have you got that goal clearly defined, written down in a way that is measurable and time-bound? It should be a stretch, but you should be able to at least picture yourself getting there. Then, follow the sequence:
- Resolve Yourself – make initial setbacks your motivation.
- Look For Inspiration – find someone who’s already modeled the success you desire. Allow their success to spur you on.
- Select Your Running-Mates – who can run beside you (and you beside them) to encourage and hold you accountable?
- Reset the Rules – change the environment, the definitions, and any details if they get in the way. Be ready to do things differently.
- Find Advantage in Innovation – give yourself an edge by investing in your systems, your tools, and especially in your own skills and knowledge.
After this week’s brilliant result, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta congratulated Kipchoge on Twitter. “You’ve done it, you’ve made history and made Kenya proud while at it. Your win today, will inspire tens of future generations to dream big and to aspire for greatness.”
You can inspire yourself to future greatness by achieving your next audacious goal. Your dream business is a worthy pursuit, so dream big and make your own history. Make yourself and others proud by achieving that big dream. Make record-breaking achievements your new normal.