Imagine the looks on people’s faces when someone says, “You don’t need to buy a lighter bike. You’d be a lot better off if you lost 10 or 20 pounds.” (We’ll get back to that lovely little scene in a moment.)
Many people feel that buying something new — new technology, new devices, new systems, new “stuff” — is the key to success. They’re convinced that what they have is not enough. What holds them back are the things they don’t have.
But that is rarely true. Most people can’t work to the limits of what they already have, much less approach the limits of whatever is newer, or faster, or better.
But that doesn’t stop people from spending more time searching for better stuff than they do searching for ways to improve themselves.
Take cycling. Things like carbon fiber, electronic shifting, and advanced aerodynamics has made bicycles incredibly sophisticated — and expensive. Go to a triathlon, even an entry-level “sprint” triathlon, and you’ll see hundreds of $6k, $8k, and $10k bikes. Even casual competitors spend thousands of dollars pursuing incremental performance gains. The same is true at most Gran Fondos. High-tech and high-expense is the norm, not the exception.
Some years ago I did a triathlon with a friend who is 1) a professional cyclist and 2) way too forthright in expressing his opinions. Since he is who he is, a group quickly formed around him in the staging area. A rather portly gentleman talked about his plan to buy a $9,000 bike. “A lighter bike will definitely be worth it,” he declared, obviously confident a pro cyclist riding a cutting-edge bike would agree.
“Oh, hell no,” my friend said. “If I were you I wouldn’t waste my money on a lighter bike. You’d be a lot better off if you just lost 10 or 20 pounds.”
And with that the group dispersed.
Later I said to him, “That was harsh.”
“Maybe,” my friend replied. “But instead of looking in the mirror, people look for the next best thing, because it’s easier. Unless you’re at the top of the sport, equipment is the least of your worries. You have plenty of room to improve yourself first. But, of course, improving yourself takes a lot of work. All you have to do to improve your bike is write a check.”
Lack of tact aside, he’s right. A pound or two less in bike weight is nothing compared to twenty pounds less in rider weight. A pound or two less in bike weight is nothing compared to improving cardiovascular fitness, or power. Only when you’ve wrung every last drop of performance out of yourself does it make sense — if then — to spend thousands of dollars in hopes of gaining an incremental, at best, advantage.
Plenty of companies do the same thing. Once, during a tour of a manufacturing plant, I saw comprehensive data-collection systems, sophisticated automation, and intuitive man-machine interfaces. But those investments had not impacted the bottom line. Throughput was significantly lower than the most conservative benchmarks. Waste was horrible. Workers stood idle for long stretches of the day.
I asked the plant manager the obvious question. “Well,” he huffed, “you have to understand that as an organization we are committed to giving our employees every tool they need to do their jobs.”
Admirable, but misguided. For example, they planned to spend $135,000 on computers with faster processors — even though shop-floor employees only use spreadsheets and simple databases. Processor speed was a non-issue.
Other plants in the same industry using limited automation, manual data collection systems, and buttons and knobs instead of touch screens were significantly more productive. They spent money where it paid off and let skill, experience, and hard work take care of the rest.
Buying new simply for the sake of new is always a dumb investment. Buying a new bike doesn’t automatically transform you into a better rider. Buying new technology doesn’t automatically transform you or your company. Every technology investment — in fact, every investment — should result in savings or quantifiable improvement.
Technology is only valuable if it results in faster, cheaper, or better. If not, it just sucks up time and money that could be put to better use somewhere else.
Look in the mirror. Determine what you should improve on your own. You can almost always do a lot better than you are with what you already have.
Make wringing every drop of performance out of yourself your first step.
You may find that you never have to spend time or money finding the next best thing — because you are the next best thing.
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