Look Ahead, Get Ahead

by Steven van Groningen on 4 March, 2012

Running is a very efficient way to get some exercise. You can do it almost everywhere and it doesn’t cost a lot. We do most of our running around Herastrau lake, a lap of about 5 km. When we first lived in Bucharest, in 1993 -1997, we would be the only ones. Old ladies would shake their heads, men would laugh at us and children would shout “faster” or “1-2-3,1-2-3”. Since then a lot has changed and there are many more runners in Herastrau now. What has not changed (much) is the surface of the track around the lake. Although is says “Pista de Alergare” (running track) the uneven concrete tiles and slabs are not very suitable for running. I am not writing this to complain but I realized the other day some of the consequences and saw a parallel with business and politics.

When you run on an uneven surface with holes you constantly look just a few meters ahead so that you know where to place your feet in order to avoid falling. The scars on our knees are witness of the fact that not even that guarantees success.

Look Ahead At Where You Want To Go

Last year I was preparing for an Ironman triathlon. This is a race in which you swim 3,8 km, followed by a 180 bike ride and then run a full marathon (42,2 km). This takes a bit more serious approach to training than just running a few laps around the lake. In the weekend we would go to Snagov and do our long runs on the asphalt roads through the forest.  Now, one of the well known tips for distance running is that you should look at a point far ahead of you. This way your mind helps your body to go to the point you are looking at. If you are constantly looking down, only a few meters in front of you, mentally speaking you are not helping yourself. It took me some time to realize that I was still looking only a few meters in front of me, even though there was no need to do so anymore and I had to make an effort to change the habit of looking down just in front of me.

Steer Clear Of Danger, Look Ahead

Another example of the importance of looking further ahead is when going fast downhill on a road bike. This can be an incredible experience but you have to know what you are doing. Sharp corners, dirt and gravel on the surface, traffic all make it dangerous. So you need to learn how to handle this, especially cornering. One of  the tricks is not to look at the corner itself but to look at the point where you want to exit. Subconsciously the mind steers the body toward the point you are looking at. If you don’t want to find yourself at the shoulder of the road or in the abyss, don’t look at it.

The lesson is that it is important to look at a goal further away and not just at what is lying directly in front of you can easily be applied to business and politics. Sometimes we seem to be so preoccupied by what is immediately in front of us that we fail to look at our goal further ahead. We are not pulled towards that goal because we don’t look at it, worse, we start believing the things directly in front of us are more important than they really are because we are looking at them all the time. It becomes such a habit to deal only with what lies directly in front of us that we forget  to look from time to time at our long term goal.

What A Banker Looks At

In the bank it is my job to make sure we keep a balance between not falling on our face because of short term risks on the one hand and achieving our long term goals on the other. A real banker is not someone who looks everyday at the volume of credits he has sold or how much his marketshare has increased over the last month. Banking is bit more complicated than that. I wrote about this here. I believe many of the problems we have today in banking can be at least partially explained by a short-term focus imposed by investors, shareholders, analysts and bankers that pushed an industry to improve performance from quarter to quarter while the business cycle is much longer than a year.

Romania Nr 7

Romania is 7th in terms of population and 9th in terms of surface but scores in the twenties on many of the other indicators. If our long term goal for Romania would be is to become the 7th country in the EU also in terms of economic power, quality of life, … (take your pick) we need to keep an eye on that goal. If it is too far away to see the finish so we should take intermediate long term goals. What happens in reality seems to be that we are so busy with dealing with all sorts of sort term issues that we actually in the way of the achieving of our long term goal. If we drop 7 positions in the “ease of going business index” of the World Bank because we introduce more bureaucracy for companies in order to deal with at short term issue (tax evasion), we are moving away from our long term goal. If we want to be Nr 7 we don’t need to be Nr 7 in everything but cannot fall behind even further in areas where we are already way behind. Defining the long term goal and keep looking at it might help us getting there.

Look Ahead When You Want To Get Ahead

Sometimes we need to force ourselves to look further ahead – at least from time to time – so that we don’t forget where we want to go to. It changes the perspective of the little things directly in front of you. Looking at what lies directly in front of you is sometimes needed to prevent you falling on your face. But there are also times that we have become so accustomed at looking just in front of us that we forget to look at our long term goal, even when we could.

Now, about that track around Herastrau lake…..

 

 

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

bhuttu March 5, 2012 at 05:05

N ow this is a great metaphor, and there’s much to learn in this post for some people. What I liked most is the way you feel connected to the Romanian interests and objectives just like you’d be a native of our country.

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Costel Postolache March 5, 2012 at 09:36

Frank Lloyd Wright : Business is like riding a bicycle. Either you keep moving or you fall down.

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SvG March 6, 2012 at 19:09

and it helps if you know where you are going to……

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Diana D March 5, 2012 at 18:22

I totally agree. In Romanian we also say we “fail to see the forest because of the trees”. I believe looking ahead is something we have to practice on an everyday basis. When I look at some Asian countries I see a very good example of how a long term view changed everything for them. And I also think it was something else that helped them and that was resilience. We also have to start practicing it.

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Dragos Roua March 6, 2012 at 18:40

That’s a great metaphor and the best part of the entire text is that it stems from personal experience. I really liked the personal touch of it, and, as a moderate runner myself, I know and appreciate the benefits of running (not having enough time to run lately, I replaced it with daily walks of around 5-7 km: basically, I don’t use any mechanical transportation whatsoever :) ).

One word though: we, as a country, are a very young kid. We’re only 20 years old. That’s merely one generation. Just 20 years ago we were prisoners of a centralized and corrupted economy, we couldn’t talk freely, access to proper education (not tainted by propaganda, that is) was scarce, and so on and so forth. In this context, after 1989, instant gratification was not only expected, but somehow necessary. We’re like kids who are jumping on the first available marshmallow, not because we can’t refrain, but because we didn’t have marshmallows for decades. That’s happening in many areas of the modern Romanian culture. We’re just too eager to consume whatever comes into our eyesight, being it villas in the suburbs, or meat at the supermarket. It’s hard to keep your eye on a distant goal when you’re out of the darkness of hunger.

But the current crisis may have, ironically, a beneficial effect on this situation. By teaching the modern society to live within their (drastically reduced) means, it will perhaps force it to think at least medium term, if not long term. Until then, we’re still like kids who’re craving candies…

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SvG March 6, 2012 at 22:22

Thanks for you comment. I see what you mean. I myself have an overdeveloped instant gratification reflex whenever I see an unguarded piece of chocolate and find it amazingly difficult to fight this even though I know very well it is not aligned with my long term goal. I like to think the crisis will make us indeed better, wiser and stronger.

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Parmalat June 3, 2012 at 18:03

I’m a Scorpio, with a Taurus rising sign. Which means I’m rather slow, but on the other hand I make up through resistance.

So I don’t run for 5 km, but I do have my routine of walking on a 17 km course when the weather allows it. The most I’ve walked was 25 km, took me a few hours.

The banking sector is one of the few areas where I would have no suggestion of management, partly because I’m not accustomed to the domain (on the inside of it).

By the way, what horoscope sign are you? And don’t tell me you don’t believe in horoscope signs, cause I do :)

I can even bring irrefutable arguments on the side of horoscope signs!

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