One of the banes of my existence, professionally, has been slow progress. Without meaning to hijack my friend Reilly’s concept of “being patient while being awesome”, I wanted to explore the concept of momentum (professionally, not like, physically) because it’s a timely subject for me, and because momentum’s got a great deal to do with patience. Applied patience.
Obviously, getting things accomplished and building success in business requires the work of many people. In my business – sports marketing and more recently, book PR – I’m always reliant on other people to judge the merits of my work, respond, collaborate, make decisions. That’s nothing unique, but it sometimes can feel like an uphill battle to be heard, be taken seriously, have my projects considered. That can be frustrating, but at the same time, it’s the nature of marketing and PR work. I keep telling Sam Benjamin that getting media exposure is a slow process, and one that inherently snowballs with time and strategic pressure. Drip drip drip, as Dave Chappelle (as R. Kelly) said.
It’s been interesting to track the progress of Sam’s book out in the world. We’re truly starting from zero – we’re built a brand, and are now building awareness of Sam’s product and of him, as an author, individual by individual. We’re not modifying someone’s existing perception of him, we’re literally starting from scratch. That’s really rewarding for a number of reasons, but the progress can feel slow. Instead of getting down about the slow progress though, we’ve celebrated small victories and shared in the excitement of our first substantial media (and corresponding sales) hit. Now that we can see the beginnings of growth, we need to maintain our momentum, not mistake the beginnings of success for actual success, and continue working the plan.
A Real-World Example of ‘You’re Doing It Wrong”
I used to work for a guy who typified the whole smarmy sales guy schtick. His idea of momentum was “if I can just get them on the phone, I’ll be able to talk them into going my way.” Truly, he was a force of nature – phone call after phone call, at all hours of the night, endlessly. I once participated in a pitch meeting that finally ended – more than 5 hours after it’s scheduled ‘hard stop’ – with him extracting twice the money he had committed at the beginning of the meeting. I remain in awe of that meeting and of the guy, simply because he wore people down until they capitulated. It was exhausting to work for him, even to come into contact with him, and he taught me a great lesson about how not to conduct myself. He remains successful today, but his path to success is littered with former friends, burnt-out colleagues and a pretty distinct reputation. The lesson remains: don’t be a jerk. It’s just not good form.
The Practical Application of Momentum
On the other hand, I got a very interesting lesson in how to win 24 hour races from Patrick Long the other day. Specifically talking about the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a particularly grueling race done on one of the fastest tracks in the world, Patrick talked about the need to set his car up not to sprint, but to be reasonably quick for every single minute of the race. Patrick and his team worked very hard to find this compromise on their car – low drag aerodynamically but tuned so that it was malleable in the slow stuff – and set about the race knowing that they’d have a fast average pace.
Momentum to Patrick means quite a few things: in the short term, it means brake less and more smoothly and average a higher rate of speed around a given track. Spend time in preparation to make sure you’re the best equipped for the task at hand, and think ahead of your current position. In the long term, it means don’t get flustered, hit your marks, don’t make mistakes, and above all else, be mentally prepared to change your strategy halfway through the race. There’s that whole adage of “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” and I know from personal experience that in marathons, going out too fast or simply not being able to focus or maintain energy in the crucial parts of a race means failure.
Another practical application of momentum is Eau Rouge at Spa, in Belgium. The corner – driven in anything from a 911 RSR to a Formula One car, is taken flat out, and is so steep that you can actually hear an engine slowing down as it fights gravity. Carrying maximum momentum through the corner is important for stringing together a great lap, and takes balls of steel. Below, Kimi Raikkonen gets it done.
Be Pleasantly Obnoxious*
Professionally speaking, one of the keys to momentum is knowing when to push and when to let up. I constantly run into the problem of people not responding to me as fast as I’d like (or sometimes at all), but taking baby steps and reveling in the small victories assures you of making progress. I had a boss in college who always said that his expectation for all his employees was to move every single project they were on forward by at least one step every day. That’s a great starting point – do something to progress or advance your goals, every single day. I’ve had a great deal of practice in the fine art of being pleasantly obnoxious over the years, and think of myself as being fairly advanced in the art of nuanced obnoxiousness. Find your way to the top of someone’s pile by not being discouraged at setbacks, un-returned phone calls or half-assed responses. Keep a smile in your voice, so to speak.
Channel Your Inner Axl
Like Axl Rose said: “All we need is just a little patience / said sugar make it slow / and we’ll come together fine / all we need is just a little patience…” Despite the fact that Axl was probably talking about some aquanet afro’d groupie rather than the fundamentals of business, that’s applicable. Just as you don’t win the 24 Hours of Le Mans by getting anxious and taking unnecessary risks in the first corner, getting all in a huff about non-immediate results and subsequently reacting poorly won’t get you anywhere either. There’s a balance to be had between some reward immediately and a wide base of opportunity in the future. Taking the long view and staying calm and measured in your decisions, communications and actions enables that long-term success to start closing in a bit. On the other hand, don’t do a Chinese Democracy and exercise just a tad too much patience.
A context-free list of business jargon which will get the point of this post across for the short of attention span:
Things to do: Pick your spots. The tortoise beats the hare. Be patient while being awesome.** Get to the top of the pile. Drip drip drip. Fish or cut bait. You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.
Things not to do: Be a jerk, Spit the Dummy, move the cheese.