Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Farnsworth's First Law of Life, Leadership, and Bicycles


It’s a lot easier to keep your balance when you’re moving forward.

I once worked with the head of a large organization with 10 division and 3,000 members. He saw his principal role as chief trouble-shooter and putting out fires. As it happened, there always seemed to be plenty of trouble and fires for him to handle.
He had no clear vision of where the organization was going and was not enthusiastic about defining one or communicating it to the organization. How could he stop and do that, he asked, when he was overwhelmed dealing with problems and putting out fires?
In the meantime, without direction, the organization languished and the people in it were constantly squabbling, getting into mischief, and spawning emergencies. Dealing with these issues took even more of his time and made it even less likely that he would establish a clear vision of where they were going.
It seemed to me that his focusing on problems attracted more of them. At the same time, the lack of forward momentum caused the energy of the organization to be dissipated on petty internal concerns.
I have observed that heads of organizations who lack “that vision thing,” as George H. W. Bush described it, have a difficult time rallying their troops or keeping them out of trouble. King Solomon wrote that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” Usually they die from marching in endless circles, from starvation, or from constant infighting.
These officers may be in charge of organizations, but they are not leaders. Being a leader requires purpose, vision, direction, and movement.
My brother Lane is a leader who understands and applies Farnsworth’s First Law of Life, Leadership, and Bicycles. He has led hundreds of horseback trips into the San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado in the past 30 years. He knows the mountains and he knows how to handle horses.
Lane has found that horses generally work hard and are well behaved as long as you keep them moving along the trail. However, if you loiter too long at the trailhead or if you stop too long or too frequently along the way, they will start biting, kicking, and shoving each other. (There’s a reason it’s called “horseplay.”) If that starts to happen, Lane says, you must get back on the trail as soon as possible.
In his view, the keys to a successful pack trip are to (1) know where you’re headed, (2) get moving, and (3) keep moving steadily toward your destination.
Farnsworth’s First Law of Life, Leadership, and Bicycles applies as much to humans as it does to bicycles and horses. Successful work groups, families, and individuals know and apply Lane’s three keys.
The concept that it is impossible to keep a bicycle at rest in balance is not very complicated. As a former student once derisively described it, this principle is “stupidly simple and ‘duh’ obvious.” “Everybody knows that!” he said.
I fully agree.
And yet, knowing that, how often do we find ourselves in a swirl of crises because we don’t have a clear vision and purpose?
How often do we get bogged down in a swamp of minutiae and trouble because we forget to focus on our primary objective?
How often do we allow interruptions and distractions to divert our attention and throw us off balance, draining precious energy and resources away from our main mission?
Sometimes, even if we don’t yet know all the answers to how we’re going to get to where we want to go, we just have to put one foot in front of the other and start moving.
Often the answer is to just “do it.”
When we do that, we frequently find that forward momentum itself resolves or makes irrelevant the nagging issues that kept us paralyzed.
Forward momentum itself gives us the energy to break through barriers that once seemed insurmountable.
Forward momentum itself takes us to a place where we can see how to reach our ultimate objective.
Sometimes the solution to our quandary is to simply jump on the bike and keep the pedals moving.
The Book of Proverbs counsels us: “With all thy getting, get understanding.” I would like to add the following to that sage advice:
With all thy getting, get going!
P.S. I recently had a conversation with Scott Rassler, a seasoned financial advisor in South Florida, about the importance of this principle.

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