Ultrarunning Parallels to Building a Business: Focus on the Wildly Important Goal

This is the first post in a new series written by our CFO, Huw Edwards. Huw is a “runner”, self-confessed running addict and finisher of numerous ultramarathons including the Leadville 100 mile footrace. In this series, he will explore the similarities between running an ultramarathon and building a business.

Running as a Microcosm

I have a running problem. I run a lot. Long distances. For hours and days. It’s a passion and a compulsion. It’s also a challenge. Over the years facing this challenge, I have found that training for and competing in ultramarathons is in fact a microcosm of life and for our purpose here, business life. It provides an opportunity to set goals, plan, persevere, commit, make mistakes, fail, learn from mistakes and failure, and succeed and achieve goals. Moreover, I can do all this in an environment where the “downside” (backcountry dangers notwithstanding!) are relatively limited. After all I’m usually “paying” money to do these races!

Implementing The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Over the course of this series, I will lay out my approach to achieving my goals in my running and how they parallel our formula for executing on our most important strategic priorities at Jungle Disk in the midst of keeping customers’ online backups running, our employees engaged and productive, and everything and anything that represents “keeping the lights on” in our business. We work to achieve our goals in our business just like I do with my running - by focusing on the wildly important goal, acting on lead measures, keeping a compelling scorecard and creating a cadence of accountability. If this sounds familiar to folks, it’s the formula laid out in “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” which I was unknowingly following in my running endeavours and have now adopted at Jungle Disk to achieve our wildly important company goal for 2017. In this first post of the series, I will discuss how to set a wildly important goal.

Pitfalls of Setting Too Many Goals

This is an opportune time of year to both reflect on 2016 and look ahead to decide what I want to achieve in 2017. It’s easy to write out a long list of goals, targets and aspirations. Examples might include: run a famous race, run a new longest distance, get more fit, get faster, lose weight or beat a personal record (PR) at a certain distance. The list can be endless and well intentioned. The issue is that if I make a list of 10 goals and try to achieve them all, I will in all probability fail at most if not all of them. The key is focus. It is key to identify a single wildly important goal that I plan to spend a disproportionate amount of my time focusing on. Once achieved, I can then re-evaluate and set a new, possibly more audacious, wildly important goal.

Some goals may build upon each other naturally, maybe over the course of the year. For me, the key is to determine which is the one that REALLY matters. Which goal is truly “wild” and “important” and which smaller “goals” are in fact simply milestones or process steps along the way to be determined/modified/dismissed as necessary in pursuit of the wildly important goal. (And note again that I say goal, not goals…).

Pitfalls of Setting Vague Goals

A common pitfall with goal-setting is setting goals that are vague. I need to clearly articulate the goal, be able to evaluate objectively if I have achieved it, and set a deadline to achieve it. The classic New Year’s resolution to “get more fit” is an awful goal stated as is. What is “more fit?” How will I know? And by when - what’s the time frame? Just like in a race, all wildly important goals must have a finish line and a time cutoff!

My 2017 Running Goal: Finish the 2017 Leadville 100 Mile Trail Run on August 19th in under 24 Hours

Wildly important? Yes, this race has a special place in my heart - it was the first 100 miler that I attempted in 2012. (and DNF’d - did not finish on that first attempt because I missed the time cutoff at mile 87.) I went back to Leadville in 2015 with a goal of finishing the race under the 30 hour cutoff time, which I was successful at finishing in 29 hours and 22 minutes. Since then, I have made great strides as an ultrarunner and it’s time to up my game and compete with the big boys. In the process, I want to carve over 5 hours off my previous best time…! This would be HUGE!

Measurable? Yes, the goal time is set and the clock doesn’t lie.

Deadline? Yes, August 19th, 2017 is the day of destiny.

Next Time: How Do I Stay on Track? Tracking Lead Measures

Unfortunately, most wildly important goals are determined by a lagging measure. In my case, the time it takes me to complete the race on August 19th itself. So how can I tell over the next 7 months if I’m on track and likely to achieve my goal? That’s where “lead measures” come in. I will discuss how to define and track lead measures as well as the relationship between lead measures and engagement in the next post of this series. Sneak preview: lead measures need to be (i) predictive and (ii) influenceable. Stay tuned!

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