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The Power of Prep, E-Bikes and Paying Attention

The Houw Hoek Hotel is a special place.   


Nestled deep into the Hottentots Holland mountains, the historic estate provides basic but clean accommodations, a venue for university dances and birthday parties, and a well-attended Sunday roast lunch.   


My father grew up there, and as a result, I visited many times over the years. Of late, my visits are linked to the annual two-day Houw Hoek mountain biking event, a social gathering of mostly mountain biking weekend warriors who like to play around on the many beautiful trails in and around the area.   


It’s a relatively low-key event attended by a few hundred enthusiasts. The ample grounds and multiple kid-friendly activities also make it attractive for your spouse and family, and we had a great weekend out there.  


Except for the e-bikers.  


Now look, it’s not their fault. The e-bike is a relatively new addition to the mountain biking landscape, but it has been around for a good decade now. It has transformed the sport, and these motor-assisted beasts have made riding accessible to a whole new range of people that would previously not bother (downhills are fun, but uphills can be brutal).   


I’m just not sure the organizers of this particular race are completely caught up on how to deal with it. E-bikers start off with the rest of us, and they are bound to fly past you on the uphills, but due to lack of technical ability, be slower on the downhills. And that creates a problem. We hold them back uphill, they hold us back downhill. And irritation on both ends is due to ensue.   


I had a great race this weekend. In part because I am fitter than last year (where I suffered quite a bit). And I was reminded that nothing beats preparation. If you want to show up for the big event, most of the work gets done beforehand.  


Also, the organizers will hopefully take feedback on board and have the e-bikers start earlier or later than the rest of us. That will do a lot to mitigate the frustrations on both ends. It’s a small thing to set the stage for everyone’s enjoyment, and something they probably should have done this year already. But maybe, just maybe they weren’t paying enough attention to the changing environment.  

Don’t we often do that in our businesses? We take notice of changing trends, but we don’t adjust our model to allow for the practical effect on our product. Houw Hoek has always been an “everyone goes off at the same time” kind of race. But that was before e-bikes came along. So either let them play but have a staggered start, or just don’t allow for it. I think it’s easy to fix, but it does require a departure from “the way we’ve always done it".


Years ago, we almost lost a massive corporate account because we were not paying attention. The parent company (whom we worked with) restructured operations and gave more autonomy to their biggest division. We were slow to respond in terms of our offer and operational structure to focus on this division’s needs, and they felt the lack of love. Competitors came knocking and we were almost thrown out with the bad bathwater.   


I wish I could say I fully onboarded the lesson, but like all of us, our hubris gets in the way. I know what got me here won’t necessarily get me there, but it’s so hard to let go of my beliefs.   


Legacy thinking hey. It gets all of us at some point.   


Talking about adjusting your approach, what would have happened if Nelson Mandela had given Rassie a talking-to just before the England game? Let’s find out…  

The Coach, for the first time in these dreams, was speechless for a moment.  


The man – the icon – stood next to him. In the dream, as in life, there was an aura about him that just couldn’t be ignored. And, funny enough, he wore a Springbok jersey. His doing that was one of the iconic moments in South Africa’s history.  


But it was also different. The number on the jersey was 7, not 6. It was the Coach’s old number.  


“Sir, I’m honoured that you have come here,” stammered the Coach.   


“It does feel strange,” said the wise old man, looking at his hands. “It’s nice to be able to come back and talk to you. I’ve been watching you, from afar. You have been doing great work.”  


“Thank you,” said the Coach. “Yes… we’re just over a year away from the next World Cup. We’re winning big games, but we’re still inconsistent. The public isn’t happy with us.”  


“Are you staying true to your charter?”   


It was such an interesting question. The Coach answered: “I think so. Sort of. Results are ok, transformation is going well, public perception… hmmm… I don’t know. There is lots of pushback when we lose big games.”  


“So it’s a no,” said the older man.  


“Well, it’s not a solid yes,” answered the Coach. “We’re still building out our capability, we are building an alternative way of playing… we need a plan B, otherwise we won’t go all the way. The next World Cup is virtually mission impossible given the teams we need to play to win.”  


“Focus on the controllables,” answered the tall man. “Culture. Humility. Unity. Is everyone in the camp still aligned? Are you staying humble? In the past, that’s where things went wrong. Big heads. Individuals who stopped doing the work.”  


“Yes…” answered the Coach. But he knew it might need renewed focus. He made a mental note.  


“Everyone must feel like equals, Coach. Everyone must feel seen. Feel heard. You want to make sure that you keep the squad unified. And that everyone FEELS useful. Don’t forget that. Ever.”  


Wise words. As always. The tall man had one more gem for the Coach: “One last thing. I always knew how to dress for the occasion. Suits for the UN, shirts for rallies, Springbok jerseys for the big games. Dress for success, Coach. And by that, I mean show up on the day prepared with the plan and resources that fit the occasion. Not all games will require the same approach. Stay true to your charter, but adjust for the situation.”  


And with that, he was gone.  

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