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Ironman – Another Business/Sporting Analogy

business is like sport

Now it’s well known that I love a good “how similar sports is to business” analogy, so here’s another taken from a recent personal experience.

Coming up two weeks ago now I fulfilled a lifetime ambition of completing an Ironman. For those unfamiliar, that’s a 3.8km swim + 180km cycle + 42.2km marathon.

To be fair, it wasn’t really a lifetime ambition. Until as recently as a few years ago I didn’t really know what an Ironman was and then when I did find out, I thought that there was simply no way that I could put my body through that.

A few years ago I decided I should have crack at triathlons - the goal being an Olympic distance (1.5km+40km+10km). That seemed like a hell of a long way and a great achievement. Once the training was done and the event completed it didn’t seem that hard. So why not have a crack at a half Ironman (1.8km+80km+21.1km)? Now that seemed like a really long way! But once again, another year later and another distance ticked off… So what next? With the go ahead from my family, onto Ironman 2016! Mission accomplished.

Others in the fields of sports and business seem to have that “nothing is impossible” mentality baked into them from the start. Our esteemed ex-All Black captain Richie McCaw frequently uses the phrase “the body does what the mind tells it to.” This embodies how he is and has been able to for longer than anyone else (as measured by number of test matches), put his body through the punishment of international rugby, especially when he is often personally targeted for “special attention” by opposition teams.

Likewise, Rod Drury never set out to build an accounting software company that would just succeed in New Zealand. His mind was always set on building a global force and he never doubted he could. I remember before Xero existed Rod gave me a demo in his boardroom when he had only a handful of employees and about the same number of customers. He told me that “accounting was the killer app for the cloud.” He absolutely believed it, and is proving that now.

I’m sure both of those guys didn’t start out with global domination in their mind's though. Richie wouldn’t have thought about that as a kid lacing up his boots and Rod had a couple of successful business exits before he came up with Xero, the vision, the experience and the confidence to become a global player.

My point is that the mind can be a limiter. As you gain experience and grow you need to keep resetting your aspirations to be bigger and bigger and bigger than what you previously thought you could achieve, and ideally just out of reach. Then when you achieve them you’ll have the confidence to go even further next time and achieve what you once thought to be impossible.

P.S. When approaching your goals, you’ll also need to train the tools of your trade, your body (through exercise and quality eating) and your mind (through education and mentoring/coaching), plus have a well-established support network of colleagues, friends and family.

P.P.S. If you’re considering Ironman check out