Sticking power: marathon running and beyond

By Mark Barlow, June 21, 2016

We’re quite used to the idea that with enough willpower and training, pounding out those 26.2 miles is something a lot of us can achieve.

We’re not underestimating the effort involved, the determination required to get through those unsupported 20-mile training runs or the physical pain of the last few miles, but we know that you don’t have to be extraordinary to get that finisher’s medal. You just have to stick at it.

In a lot of ways, a marathon is a model for other challenges in life: studying through school or university, then examinations and results; taking on a restoration project, learning new skills and building something fabulous and unique; coming through the trial of illness or impairment and realising that there is life on the other side. All challenges require a level of perseverance and stubborn pig-headedness. That’s where the satisfaction comes from. Things that are hard-won are more precious than those given to us on a plate.

Starting out on a project

Of course, we could extend this theorising to the business environment and compare the implementation of new software to training for a marathon. We’ll start with identifying a target, look at where we are now and where we want to be. We’ll go through a feasibility study, gain support, check out suppliers, allocate the budget, plan and re-plan. In time, we’ll train our users and eventually, we’ll go live.

We’ll set off, full of enthusiasm, enjoy the excitement of the event and the support of the crowd, and we’ll be going great until we develop cramp at mile 14. And that’s when, sadly, we might lose our mojo and come to think that getting through the second half of the race is an impossible task.

It’s not, though. Impossible. It just needs a different approach. We learn more about ourselves and our capabilities when we face up to difficulties. And we learn that with the right support, we can make it. We take time out for some remedial massage, walk a little and chat along the way, drink more fluids, change our priority from a sub-four finish to getting there and enjoying the whole experience.

Let’s get off the road and back to business. We can assess where we are, identify what’s hampering our progress, look at our learning styles, change our targets, monitor our level of engagement and bring our staff fully on board. That way we’ll put the excitement back into the project and we will achieve our goals.
After the finish

And here’s the good news. When we’ve made it, when we’ve crossed the finishing line, it’s not over. Yes, good news. Because after a marathon, after the aching has gone and the blisters have healed, there’s always another challenge. There’s another business objective to meet, another change in strategy or another group of users waiting to feel the benefit of a better way of working.

We’re human. We don’t just have sticking power – we have ambition, and the two together make a glorious combination.