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Lessons from Chicago

October 12th, 2010 admin No comments

Sitting here in the BA lounge at Chicago airport on the way back to France, I’ve the time to reflect (a more polite way of saying that I’ve got nothing else to do) on these past four days spent in the land of Al Capone and McDonalds.

For example on the importance of first impressions. And what impressions do people get an hour into queuing at immigration control after an eight-hour flight? The ESTA pre-registration system seems to have done nothing else but make the queues longer. Despite all the warnings, it seems that it is still not obligatory (or maybe it is just that some people don’t actually comply). But rather than separating the guilty from us good people and putting us in different ‘lines’ (a new word I learnt this week, nobody understood a thing when I said ‘queue’), we’re all in the same one, and poor old Mr.Immigration has to manage the complexity. Badly it seems.

Then there’s the dangers of standardisation going just a little too far. Didn’t I just love it when, having just crossed the finishing line after 3h31m45s of physical and mental torture, a young blond girl smiled and uttered “Congratulations!”. Even better, when given a bottle of ice-cold water (in France once, the first thing I got after crossing the finishing line in blistering conditions was a copy of the local paper), another smile and “Congratulations!”. A few yards further, and a welcoming beer (they sure know how to treat you well here) – “Congratulations!”. A photo. “Congratulations!”.Picked up my clean clothes. “Congratulations!”. Picked my nose. “Congratulations!”. Never a “well done”, or a “how are you feeling?”. After a while, you’re tempted to flee all human contact, just in case there’s another inspirational “Congratulations!”.

But it’s all too easy to see the weaker points in an otherwise magnificently organised event. Consider the contribution of risk management . A colour-coded ‘Event Alert System’, which had seemed a little artificial to me, was actually used during the race to warn runners of the deteriorating conditions (although anyone out there probably realised just how hot it was getting), and teams of ambulances were sent out to deal with the falling dozens. And the greatest inspiration came from he who decided to manufacture probably millions of ice cubes handed out in plastic bags at the end of the race (with a firm “Congratulations!”.. What if it had been raining, what would they have done with them all?

However, if there is one lesson I’ve learnt this weekend, it’s the value of people. Most had completed the 13-16 weeks training, and were hungry for success on the starting line, but nothing could have prepared them for the burning sun that progressively rose during the morning. Yet only around 3% actually pulled out

A major contribution to this was the other people, the million plus who lined the roads cheering, chanting and screaming “Good job, Peter”, as if they were part of the same team committed to success. Two miles from the finishing line, the going was tough, the sun was hot, and reason was gradually overcoming ill-founded intention by convincing it that maybe it might be a good idea after all to stop and walk a bit.

A big lady spectator hounded down on me and screamed “Peter, I’ve been sent down to tell you – get a move on, you’re doing a great job”.

How could I let her down after that?

To all of you, runners, organisers, and absolutely brilliant spectators. “Congratulations!”.

Categories: It's Happening Worldwide Tags:

From the Albi Ekiden to Chicago

October 3rd, 2010 admin No comments

As a Lean Practitioner, it is important to have other centres of interest, or life can become really frustrating (at other times, it can be exhilirating, of course). One of mine is running, which I took up around eight years ago, mainly to keep myself of mischief.

Last night I participated in my very first ‘Ekiden’, in the beautiful cathedral city of Albi, in the south-west France. The format is a marathon (42,195km) relay, with a team of six, running respectively 5, 10, 5, 10, 5 and 7,195 km). And all this starting at eight in the evening, by which time it was obviously dark, and some of the less-serious teams had already been downing the ‘aperitifs’ for a couple of hours.

The interesting fact is that I’ve only just learned this evening that ‘Ekiden’ is in fact a Japanese term. According to Wikipedia,

“The first ekiden race was sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun in 1917, and was run over three days between the old Japanese capital of Kyoto and the modern capital of Tokyo, a distance of 508 km, to celebrate the anniversary of the moving of the capital to Tokyo….As written in Japanese, Ekiden combines the characters for “station” (駅) and “transmit” (伝).”

That I consider this ‘interesting’ is due to the fact that, whilst observing people’s behaviours around me last night (there were over 260 teams of six runners), my perception was that the whole thing had a decidedly ‘Lean’ flavour to it. It some ways it reminded me of the school outing in Goldratt’s ‘The Goal’, where the group only progressed as fast as its slowest walker. Last night there were some really fit looking athletes desperately looking for their team members who were obviously a lot slower, restrained by their inferior speed (in this part of France, running is generally an excuse for having a good time, and for some runners it’s the only time they put on their training shoes all year).

But there was no frustration, no hard feelings. A lot of work had gone into defining the exact order of runners so as not to leave anyone too far behind. Mutual encouragement was rife, to the extent that individuals in difficulty were often accompanied by team members over the more testing parts of the course. Advance warning was given of the imminent arrival of your team member through a large screen hooked up to a camera 100 meters down the road. And everything was measured and instantaneously posted on electronic scoreboards each time a runner crossed the finishing line. Everybody knew where the team stood, and what needed to be done.

And it was the Japanese that invented this.

It probably suffices to say that my team didn’t win, but we weren’t last, and in any case was one of those that had already started on the red wine before the race.

However, this time next week, it’s going to be a totally different story. I’m coming over to Chicago for the 10-10-10 Marathon, just as I did last year, and enjoyed it so much I just had to get back as soon as possible. No red wine allowed next Sunday, and there’ll be five less members in the team.

Wish me luck.

Categories: It's Happening in France Tags:
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