I took my motorcycle out this weekend for the first time this year. Yippee!!! As I was riding, I thought about how riding my bike is similar to journeys we take in business. So this piece may, at first, seem like it is about my motorcycle. It is, but it is also all about business and success. I hope you enjoy it and see the parallels to what you are trying to achieve.
On a motorcycle, you have to lean to turn and learning to turn well is critical. About a quarter of all motorcycle accidents are caused by rider error, with blowing a turn the most common problem. Missing a turn at high speeds can be deadly. The first chapter of my favorite book on motorcycling technique, Proficient Motorcycling by David Hough, starts off with a story that punctuates how important it is to corner well:
Frantically, Norman shoves his grips toward the right to swerve the Suzuki away from a 100 mph head-on collision, and Mark pushes so hard on his grips that the Honda low slides in a shower of sparks and plastic. The Honda’s tires clip the Suzuki just hard enough to send the Suzuki cartwheeling into the rocks. Norman dies instantly, his helmeted head ripped from his body.
Sorry, was that too graphic? Suffice it to say, cornering skills are really important. In this example, the riders were going too fast around tight corners. The correct technique used to turn a motorcycle traveling over 5 miles per hour (mph) is called countersteering, which is shifting the contact area of the front tire opposite to where I want to go. I create the shift by using a technique called push steering. If I want to turn left, I push the left handlebar. If I want to turn right, I push the right handlebar. If I need to do an “S” swerve, I push in one direction and then the other. Pushing the handlebar with the palm of my hand quickly leans the bike over and puts it into a turn. If I tried to pull the handlebar, the bike would not lean correctly and I might not make the turn.
Here's a photo of a friend of mine in a race showing us how to turn well. She looks like she's having fun and it's a great illustration of how the bike lets you lean her over.
When I first started riding, I was afraid to push the bike into a lean – it weighs 598 pounds plus me and gear, so about 800 pounds going into a lean. Why doesn’t it fall? To be clear, if I push Hazel too much, we will fall. Most of the time and under normal driving conditions, we don't come anywhere close to a maximum lean. Above speeds of 15 mph Hazel’s wheels act like gyroscopes and her spinning masses of wheel and tire combine to create a gyroscopic force. To get the bike to turn, I used this force by shifting the weight while maintaining the balance and center of gravity for the bike.
Riding a motorcycle is technical, and when it comes to cornering, there’s more to know. It is important to always turn from the outside portion of the lane. Let me explain. If I am going to turn right, I should be on the left side of the lane before I turn. This position feels natural and I am a good right turner. If I want to turn left, I need to be on the right side of the lane just before I turn. For some reason, I still have to remind myself of this one and find myself making wide left turns at slow speeds.
The road to Alki Beach (West Seattle) offers several gentle turns to warm up my countersteering and lane management skills. The pushing, the leaning, and the shifting positions within the lane has to be done in concert with the changes required to navigate protruding manholes, gooey crack repairs, road grime and gravel, and other riders and drivers. What fun! Apart from the intellectual stimulation I get from managing my ride, I will admit that it is a rush to be able to push around 600 pounds of moving motorcycle with ease. Oh, and I like it when I roll forward on the throttle and Hazel leaps out. I’m like a cheetah in a hot pursuit.
There’s a third important technique related to turning a motorcycle. I need to look where I want to go, not at what I want to avoid hitting. This is most difficult while navigating curly on-ramps – super tight turns – where my eyes naturally gravitate to watching the edges of the road. But that’s the wrong approach because I don’t want to go to the edges of the road, I want to avoid them. The correct technique is to look forward and ahead of the turn to where I want the motorcycle go. This requires that I have faith in my skills and in Hazel. When my eyes head in the right direction, my body responds and then the bike follows. It’s a beautiful thing. My eyes are my compass. Hazel and I encounter a lot of things we want to avoid and as soon as I see them – things like corner gravel, potholes, and leaves – I need to plot my course to avoid them and then turn my eyes, head, body and then bike to the right direction. Works every time. You see why cornering is such a big deal?
Countersteering, turning from the outside, and looking where you want to go are fundamental techniques that can improve turning accuracy and safety. With these techniques, I get where I want to go.
What’s countersteering in business?
Countersteering allows the rider to take advantage of the unique design of the bike – it works with the engineering and design, and does not try to fight, or pull, the bike. Think about your goals – are you fighting something? Going against the natural flow or engineering? This might be necessary sometimes, but we can often get a better result by focusing on flowing with the design, energy, and nature of a situation.
How would you translate turning from the outside to a business situation?
Turning from the outside is simply a technique to better your odds of successfully navigating a turn. We can and should do the same for every project we take on. What are the ways you can better pave the path for success? How can you better consider more alternatives and prepare for change?
Looking where you want to go – and not looking where you don’t – seems like a no brainer to apply to business, but this one probably trips us up more than the other two. Examine the people and tasks that absorb your time and energy. Take note your thoughts. If you are spending time thinking about or working on tasks or outcomes that you want to avoid, it will be tough to move things toward what you want. Endeavor each week, each day, to spend more and more of your time and energy on what you seek.
Getting where you want to go requires faith in your resources, finesse, and a keen focus on the target.