A little bit of selflessness can go a long way
I like doing paper crafts in my spare time. Not many people outside of my family know that about me. Truthfully, I have a little bit of shame around it. I’d rather be recognized by colleagues as an astute businessman than a guy who plays with paper.
In fact, I can't even believe I'm telling you my secret after so many years of keeping it quiet.
Recently my paper crafting got revealed at a zoom happy hour with the office. It felt awkward. But it also became the impetus for me to come out of the paper closet and embrace my true crafting self. (Heck, if Ryan Hinkle can be open about his paper folding, why can’t I.)
So here goes...
I am Jeff and I love crafting.
There, I said it.
The Legacy of Ms Brock
My daughter is 8 years old. She's a competitive little so-and-so, which I suppose isn't too surprising given her genes. Everything for her is a race. We race to see who gets dressed faster in the morning, and who gets in their pajamas first at night. We see who can toss the ball without dropping it, who can hop down the sidewalk without stepping on cracks. We play chess, war and tennis. We've played over 200 games of Candyland and we keep score (she's winning). It turns out she's an Uno prodigy and is walloping me and my wife in our on-going tournament.
I remember when I was about her age and I got my 3rd grade report card. Ms Brock’s comment was “Jeff is too competitive.”
So yeah, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree - it just tries to do it better than everyone else.
The Loneliness of Competition
I’ve thought about that 3rd grade report card a lot since first getting it. Perhaps too much. But the truth is, it was the first real learning I had about my personality.
Did Ms Brock start me down a path of being less competitive? Heck no. But she did help me to understand the loneliness of somebody who is always overtly competitive, as I was back then.
A highly competitive personality is a zero sum game. For someone who always has to be the winner, it often means others have to be the loser. It’s hard to maintain close friendships if all you strive for is to be better than everyone else.
But don’t get me wrong, competitiveness is not a bad trait. If harnessed correctly, a competitive attitude can be a huge asset.
Competitiveness is definitely a driver in my skills as a sales person. My general curiosity in learning can probably be attributed to my competitive engine. And without a doubt, If not for my competitiveness, I probably wouldn't be a serial entrepreneur.
As an 8 year old, it’s not always easy to understand that being competitive is not about being one person against the world. When you’re still learning about yourself, it’s easy to slip into a world of competitive behavior.
So I’ve taken it upon myself to channel my inner Ms Brock and help my daughter learn what it’s like to let go of that competitiveness.
Which brings us back to my crafting.
The Paper Present
We have more than enough paper designs in our house. We are probably a couple of folds away from my wife either breaking my fingers or divorcing me. So what do I do? Well, I decided to use the paper designs as a learning opportunity for my competitive child.
“The best feelings in life,” I told her, “aren’t about being the best. It’s not about making you feel good and another feel bad. The best feelings are about making other people happy and truly expecting nothing in return.”
“So what we are going to do,” I continued even though it appeared she had already stopped paying attention. “Is to give my crafts away to random strangers. We are going to give with no expectation of anything in return.“
“We are?” She asked, suddenly perking up at the idea of an adventure.
"Yes we are."
And that's what we've been doing for years.
Sometimes we hide crafts on the shelves of grocery stores. Our favorite place is in the medicine aisle because we know those people are probably the ones most in need of a surprise smile.
We give crafts to young kids or babies walking down the street with their parents.
We sneakily leave crafted animals peeking out of plants in the neighbors yards.
I folded one hundred silver origami angels one year and we put them on the windshield of every parked car along the street on Christmas Eve.
Most times we don’t even know who ends up seeing them, but we laugh and laugh about how happy they’ll be to get the surprise gift. In the end, everybody wins.
Which brings us to the moment where I begin talking about the endurance industry.
Bite Your Face Off
We are a competitive industry. Our jobs are to create experiences that are better than anybody else’s. Part of that competitiveness has become territoriality.
Over the past decade, there has been fierce competition amongst race directors over dates and locations of events. Heck, if you tried to have a race in my town within a couple of months of my event, you were my enemy. Period. We became angry pit bulls behind a metal fence. If you try coming through the gate into my yard I will bite your face off.
As the owner of a registration company during those times, I found myself in a unique position of understanding best practices - because many event directors were not speaking to many of their colleagues while I was speaking to all of them. It was fairly common for me to get a call from an event organizer asking me to get intel on what another local race company was doing.
"Why don't you just call them and ask?" I'd say
"I can't," they'd reply. And that was that.
People so easily get engrossed in what they are doing with a belief it has to remain secret for fear that the competition will copy them and take all the revenue with it. The result is secluded fiefdoms that end up not learning from others.
Competitiveness, as I said above, can be very lonely.
But then a pandemic hit and it changed everything.
The Great Reset
It's amazing how a year of devastation can alter one's perception of... well.... everything.
When the covid-19 pandemic decimated the endurance event industry, I expected race directors to be shutting their businesses and entering new industries. I expected my conversations to be about trying to sell their companies and assets.
Oh how I was wrong.
Over the past 14 months, virtually none of my conversations were about shutting down. Instead, event organizers were focused on where the industry is going and what they need to do to bring the industry back. In hindsight it makes sense because, after all, we are a competitive industry. We aren’t going to let a little obstacle in our way get the better of us.
But I noticed something subtly different in this pandemic version of competitiveness. Instead of trying to secretly make plans on their own so nobody would steal their ideas, event organizers wanted to know what other companies in their area were doing. They wanted to actually talk to them - to be part of a larger conversation, to solve problems together. For once, there was a movement towards unity.
The average size industry webinar grew from 125 people to 500 as people were starving for information. Communication between event organizers increased dramatically as people shared fears, expectations and plans. And now, more than ever, I am seeing a strong desire for an industry to come together, to re-emerge as a stronger force than before.
There are coalitions of event organizers in many states, working together to create best practices for a return to live events. There are informal alliances and online gatherings discussing the future of sport. There are people saying they want to work together, they want to help, but they just don’t yet know how.
There is unity.
It’s not that competitiveness is gone from this industry - it isn’t. But like the lesson I learned from my 3rd grade teacher, like the lesson I’ve tried to instill upon my daughter, competitiveness does not have to be a zero sum game. Being competitive and being supportive of one another are not mutually exclusive concepts.
We each can strive to make our companies stronger while also working together to make our industry better.
A rising tide, as it is said, lifts all ships. By helping each other, we help ourselves.
I don’t know what the answer is on how we all come together. I don’t know what we do or how we should do it. There are far smarter people amongst you all that can figure that out. What I do know, is that increasing your communication with other event companies in your community, your region and your state is imperative right now.
We have been given an enormous opportunity to reset. Our goal should not be to “get back to where we were”. Our goal should be so much more. And none of us can do it alone.
You may not know the answers. You may not even know the questions. But I guarantee you, with 100% confidence, we can figure them out by working together.
A little unity can go a really long way.
Got any great thoughts on how industries have unified? Leave them in the comments.
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