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What having a really narrow driveway taught me about business

29 October, 2019

We have an old urban driveway. The kind that was set up when the concept of a driveway barely existed and cars were small, safety an afterthought, and not common. It's very narrow; very. The kind of narrow that means I know, down to the millimetre, what to look for when researching car specifications. It even freaks out my Japanese sister in law – you know it's small when that happens.

The driveway leads to the back of the house, so driving in and out means travelling the entire length of two houses, ours' and the neighbours, most every day. With just a hairs' breadth space on either side. Add to that imperfections in the pavement gradient, and the winter weather (great fun in ice and snow) and you've got some great entertainment every time I get behind the wheel. I've worked out that I've done this driveway more than 4 000 times over the years. That's a lot of brain training.

 So what does this have to do with business?

Respond don't react

Responding in a tight car-reversing scenario requires many micro adjustments. You need to tweak your trajectory every few moments to ensure you are parallel and not wavering, even the slightest. But those tweaks must be micro adjustments, anticipating the light, how dusk shadows may be playing with your sightlines, or morning sun partially blinding you, or that spot in the pavement where the gradient rises on the right side ever so slightly throwing you off to the left.

If you get emotionally reactive – in a "oh wow I'm about to hit!" panic – you are most likely to make big knee-jerk adjustments. The kind that might avert one issue but create the opposite effect: you think you've avoided hitting the rear right side, but you're now about to swerve the front right into the wall by your overreaction.

What does this mean for business? Being measured. Responding and anticipating, knowing that micro adjustments will happen. It's inevitable. And not allowing sweeping emotional reaction to drive knee-jerk changes, especially not constantly. Are larger issues going to come up from time to time? Of course they are, but the one thing I've learned from this driveway is that the more I anticipate and micro adjust, the less often I find myself reacting, especially emotionally where the big problems kick in and I actually do come close to hitting the wall.

Focus and vision

I know some passionate drivers. Some that have raced professionally, some that are just avid motorists. I am none of those, but I do fancy myself as very aware of core principles around knowing my car and its dimensions, and what micro adjustments will do to my car, its weight, and wheel orientation. No doubt as a result of 4 000+ repetitions in and out of this tight alley of a driveway.

Focus became the clear starting point in building a reliable skill; uninterrupted, uncluttered focus. Vision was needed to reliably see, in my mind's eye, how the distance between the wall and the corner of my left window corellated to the actual body and slightly protruding bumper that I can't see directly, and its distance from the wall. Vision was needed to see the angle of the rear window's deviance in angle from the bricks in the wall (yes go ahead and sing it, you know you want to) and use this as a key performance indicator of trajectory and when I might need a micro-adjustment to level it off and bring it back to parallel.

Focus gives room for the vision. You cannot be distracted or thinking about other things. Vision is both direct and abstract, both are required.

Understand that micro adjustments are part of the process, there will be new tweaks always in the service of being better than we were before, incrementally.

Learning and brain training

One of my favourite expressions from my elementary school days was ".... getting good at something.". "Sarah's really good at maths", "Jonathan is really good at soccer". It's so basic but it encapsulates such a simple premise – that getting good at something, math, sports, driveways doesn't require details on how you became good at it. But a perfectly simple acceptance and understanding that a combination of time, effort, confidence, and a little good fortune or innate ability comes together to make Sarah really good at math.

I needed to get good at my driveway. It was that combination of time, repetitions, and a confidence that cultivating this skill was going to take careful repetitions (careful, because I couldn't trash the car in the process of trial and error, though I did get one or two light dings) and learning how to adjust better the next time using tricks, techniques, and anticipation. Improve my focus and vision, responses and adaptation.

Thousands of runs in and out of our extremely narrow driveway re-wires your brain. I'm convinced of that.

What does this mean for business? Understanding that we all need to get good at all aspects of managing, operating, improving, and scaling our business including understanding that we never stop getting good at it. Your entire team must be part of getting good; they must be on the same page, part of the plan. And the next plan, and the next. They must understand that micro adjustments are part of the process, there will be new tweaks always in the service of being better than we were before, incrementally.

A changing landscape is inevitable

The driveway's landscape is literal. It's the pavement with all its aging imperfections. It's the snow and hardened ice in the dead of winter that refuses to allow itself to be fully shovelled away. It's the changing light of day, of season, of weather. They come and go and affect how I need to respond and adjust, it's life. Most changes are impermenant, some are evolutionary and permanent (I could swear the end of the driveway wasn't always grading up at the right side before as much as it seems now); all are inevitable.

What does this mean for business? Understanding and accepting that business is now in an ever-evolving market. Whatever business you're in, no matter how digitized your sector is now, global, innovative, and competitive forces are influencing how your customers find you, need you, and stop needing you. Your job is to see the changing landscape; to get good at using your team, your mentor, to build your next response, your next adjustments to get better. Whether it's customer acquisition, operational efficiencies, or innovation you want to be part of changing landscape awareness and not ignorant of it. That's where you hit the wall. 

The better you are at this, the better you understand all the pieces you need to make sure you get through smoothly and avoid the wall.

-- Jason

 

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