Business is a race.
One of my hobbies is to run 5-K running events. The races I prefer occur early on a Saturday morning, are to raise money for worthy charities, have enough runners, so I do not feel like I’m running alone, and are fairly challenging. By running these races, I can gauge my conditioning and see if I’m staying in shape.
For me, running a race also gives me plenty of time to think. And it has occurred to me how much running a business is similar to running a 5-K race. If you think about it, a 5-K race has many of the same “elements” that running a business has; they are just condensed into a thirty-minute time period instead of decades or generations.
Types of Businesses and Types of Races
This comparison of running a 5-K race to running a business is applicable for both different types of races and different types of businesses.
For some, the race is a marathon that lasts longer than a lifetime where you are building business structures that can last for future generations.
For some, the race is a sprint where you need to be early in an emerging market and then get out quickly with your profits.
And for some, the race is an Ironman race where one success leads to a new market success which leads to a completely different market experience.
Regardless of how you want to characterize your business, it is a race.
Starting Line to Finish Line
Business is a race because there is a starting line and a finish line. The starting line is the easiest to recognize because it is the point you enter the market for your business or product. The finish line, however, is not always so obvious. Your business may continue to prosper, but your time at the helm will eventually end.
And in between the start and finish, you will encounter some easy sections and some difficulties, just like the up-hills and down-hills on a long road race. And just like a race, you must work through the easy stretches as well as the bad to get to the finish line.
Business is also like a race because there are rules. You do not get to short-circuit the race. You have to follow the path laid out. You cannot be Anthony Gaskell who climbed over a barricade and cut ten miles off the London Marathon in 2010.
In business, rules are supposed to apply to all competing businesses to level the playing field, even though we suspect that not to be true. Employment laws, the EPA, OSHA, and IRS are some of the many rules that force us to stay within certain boundaries in managing our business race.
Business is a race because you have competition. Maybe if you are lucky, the competition will not be stiff in the early years. But in any successful business environment, competition will always show up. Competition forces you to be alert, active, and creative. Competition eliminates the businesses that refuse to participate and rewards those who are creative and advance their markets.
You Have to Run
Business is a race because you have to run the race. You cannot have a substitute or a surrogate. Even if you are just an investor, those are your dollars working in the business. You must pay attention, participate, and be active in the business decisions. To abdicate your participation in the business will maximize your investment risk. Smart investors want to minimize their investment risk, not maximize it.
Lastly, business is a race because there is one person who finishes first, but all who finish are successful. Take for example Burger King being second to McDonalds and Hertz being second to Enterprise. Second place companies are frequently better investments than first place companies. Just because they are not the first does not detract from their successes.
When considering your business as a race, remember Philippians 2:3-4.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Successful businesses follow this advice whether they are aware of it or not. They focus on their own business, do the best they can, and care about both their employees and their customers. And they also care about the interest of others.
Run your business just as you would a race. And run it humility focusing on your business and let your interest in your business extend to others.