Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Jupiter’s Travels. The Rugged Road.
How a Motorcycle Journey Taught Me About Business
There are dozens of books about epic motorcycle trips out there – and for a good reason. There’s just something epic and unforgettable about riding through the open countryside, participating in everything as it whips by. It’s elemental and essential. The motorcycle trips I’ve taken throughout my life have taught me business lessons that extend far beyond the saddle and continue to guide me in my personal training business journey.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about a trip I took through New Zealand on my motorcycle.
I traveled alone for three weeks around the South Island – just me and my bike. During those three weeks, I experienced things I’ll never forget – and much of it reached right off that bike and taught me about life, relationships, money management, and – yes – business.
Let me show you what I mean.
The Best Business Lessons Happen Outside the Office, or the Traditional Classroom
Being a good business person requires you to possess a massive assortment of traits. It’s not just about rote learning – you could go to the best business school in the world and still emerge clueless and hapless when it comes to running a successful business.
Let me say it again: traditional book learning does not count for much.
Instead, good business people are the ones who not only understand the mechanical functions of business, but who also understand how to manage people, form healthy relationships, put their egos aside for the good of a company, and be compassionate and empathetic.
Still not convinced? Let me illustrate what I mean:
Let’s look at entrepreneurship classes and business programs in the U.S. In the last 25 years, enrollment numbers for these courses have quadrupled. Obviously, people want to be business owners – they want to thrive, and they want to take the smart steps toward education they believe are going to help them get there. Despite climbing enrollment numbers, though, the rates of private business ownership for households under 30 have actually declined 60% during that same period. To put this another way – the more we teach people to run businesses, the fewer people are actually running businesses.
I think part of the issue is that the facts and figures aren’t enough to thrive in the real world. Going to entrepreneurship school, for example, doesn’t set you up to counsel an employee who has a sick family member, or to develop a “feel” for which potential hire will thrive and which will drag your company down. It doesn’t teach you how to be comfortable in a room full of people, or how to speak confidently during a presentation. It might teach you about investors and funding, sure, but there’s so much more to business than that.
In the words of Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and Forbes contributor, “What you need most of all to start a business is courage. Conviction. Confidence. Belief. Heart. Spirit. Will. Perseverance.”
When we set out to build our Alloy programming, we stayed true to our core values to drive change and keep it simple. With our team of physiologists, therapists, dieticians and other advisory board behavioral specialists, we have created a program where cutting-edge science meets real, in-the-trenches experience. Our team can confidently say that we built our brand on conviction around the gap in the market, courage to be the first of our kind, belief in our systems, with the heart to carry out the mission and the spirit and will to see it through.
5 Things I Learned About Business on my Bike
That solo trip through southern NZ taught me many things, but the biggest lesson was that people and relationships are the most crucial aspect of a business.
Here are five specific lessons I took from the trip:
1. How to Talk to Strangers
The advantage of being alone and on a motorcycle is that people will often approach you to ask where you’re from or where you’re headed. They are quick to offer you directions or suggestions to the best local restaurants. By nature of the trip, these people are all strangers. However, throughout this trip like many others I have taken before it, I knew if it weren’t for the connection I was able to make with these strangers – the experience wouldn’t have been the same.
I think all of us have some level of discomfort surrounding our ability to interact with people we don’t know. I know I felt it at one point in my life. In my 20’s on my earlier trips I may have been a bit more apprehensive, unlike my later trips leading to this one, where now, I fully embrace it. I’ve realized that “stranger” is just a perception. I notice that people often close themselves off to so many interactions because they convince themselves that it’s going to be scary, or that they can’t step out of our comfort zones. In doing so, they could be missing out on some very special and profound moments.
Being a successful business owner not only means stepping out of your comfort zone all the time, but also being comfortable with connecting to those around you. It can be essential to learn this lesson before you dive into a company.
Connection is the reason why it is so important for us at Alloy to create an atmosphere conducive to a sense of community that becomes like a second home to our clients and members. Recently, Matt wrote an article on Linkedin of exactly how we have managed to do that.
2. How to Navigate Uncertainty
At one point during the trip, my GPS failed, so I was left without any navigation. I had neglected to purchase any paper maps, so I was forced to stop and ask for directions. This forced interaction lead to some of the most memorable moments of my trip.
My failed GPS was not an anticipated part of my trip. However, I sat back, embraced the moment, and reached out for assistance. In doing so, I was invited to a wedding party, I found myself having lunch on someone’s personal farm, had drinks and swapped stories with a local chef after closing hours, learned to shear a sheep, bungee jumped, and had many more unexpected experiences.
If anything will teach you how to run a company, it’s this. Uncertainty is everywhere in a company, but most people don’t understand how to deal with it. Plenty of business owners and founders just crumble under the weight of not knowing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t set you up for success. In fact, it causes you to leave the arena before you can even truly get started.
Uncertainty isn’t always a bad thing. Learning to go with the flow of uncertainty with an open mind is a useful skill to harness when owning and running your own business. This has served me time and time again in my business and entrepreneurial life.
3. How to Step into an Experience
Remember when I got lost? That so-called mishap led to some of the most memorable interactions of my trip. Saying yes to the wedding party invite, lunch on the farm, after-hour drinks with the chef, learning to shear a sheep, and bungee jumping was the game-changer. Was it planned? No. Do I plan on owning sheep that I may someday have to shear? Maybe, but probably not. I realized that these experiences were utterly one-of-a-kind. Being present in that moment and saying yes to the detours is what gave me opportunities to connect and create memories that I will have and share for the rest of my life.
Not all experiences are as pleasant. The process can be tough and may come with plenty of peaks and valleys. The question, then, is how you handle them. Are you going to be so fixated on forward movement and progress that you can’t enjoy your successes and windfalls? Lots of founders fall victim to this mindset, and it’s a very damaging one.
To be successful as a business owner, you’ve got to learn to sit back and slow down – hustle when you have to, but be present when something incredible is happening.
4. The Importance of Human Interaction Over Technology
I had lots of experiences on my trip where tech failed, and it forced me to interact with people I wouldn’t have if I’d been able to just keep staring at my GPS. Ultimately, it was a great reminder that any/all of the tech in your business should be purposed solely to scale and facilitate more human interaction. After all, we are human beings servicing human beings.
In a world where tech moves at breakneck speed, though, lots of founders lose sight of this. Before you know it, you’re running a company that makes it impossible for customers to get a real, live human on the phone. The dose makes the poison with technology, and many founders have taken it too far.
While tech can be helpful, it’s critical to take it in moderation. Use the things that will help your company grow, but keep your focus on human interactions. The stronger you build your human relationships to be, the more durable your company will remain throughout the peaks and valleys of technology. At Alloy, we embrace technology and use it to assist in helping our clients reach their goals, but at the same time, we have a found understanding that humans are the best connectors. Human connection above all else is what can set you apart when looking to build great client experiences.
5. How to Play Creatively
Remember when Andrew Hong said successful business ownership requires spirit? That’s not something you read about in most business management textbooks. That doesn’t mean it’s not true, though.
At its core, business ownership is a creative endeavor. It’s not totally dissimilar from art, in that sense. One of the many things that separate successful business owners from their unsuccessful counterparts is that good business owners know how to get creative and how to play. They love what they do, and they bring a spirit of lightness into the experience. Everything runs well, but not everything needs to have a purpose.
Need an example? Consider Elon Musk’s Teslas- they’re feats of engineering that have changed the automotive industry forever, but they also feature programmable whoopee cushions in each seat, and the ability to play Mario Kart on the screen when the car is parked. This is a perfect example of when serious business meets serious play. I believe this combination is critical to successful companies and founders with healthy longevity.
My trip to NZ on my motorcycle didn’t serve a “purpose” per se. It was play. I wanted to drive around. I wanted to see pretty landscapes and maybe some wildlife. I wanted to meet people. I wanted to have experiences. I didn’t do it with some agenda of personal growth or business acumen. I did it because it was fun, because it felt good and because I wanted to. The most successful founders and entrepreneurs never lose that spirit of play.
Want to be a Better Business Owner? Go Out Into the World
In the words of author Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “Go out in the woods, go out. If you don’t go out in the woods, nothing will ever happen, and your life will never begin.”
This, I believe, is some of the best advice the modern founder can access. Attending a world-class business school is terrific, but it won’t give you the soft skills needed to thrive in a real-life business environment.
Those things, as it turns out, are learned outside the classroom, outside the bounds of a textbook, and outside the reassuring guidance of a teacher. While traditional business school can teach you how to be an effective fundraiser, how to identify the best CRM, and how to manage employees, it won’t teach you the most critical skills – how to have successful relationships, how to lead with integrity, and how to be a manager people want to follow.
In short, it won’t make you a fully-formed person. Only living life will do this.
When I left on my motorcycle trip, I didn’t expect it to teach me about business. But it did. It taught me many things that I’ve brought back and used to run a more successful business, in each endeavor I undertake. Because of this, I recommend would-be founders get out and have real-world experiences. There’s no better way to learn the things you’ll need to take into the office with you. More importantly, there’s no better way to fashion yourself into the type of person who has the integrity, purpose, spirit, and drive to run a successful company.
Are you a person interested in going into business for yourself? Where have you learned your most crucial business lessons?