Admittedly, I look like a giraffe. (A handsome giraffe damnit!) So it was inevitable that the universe would take advantage of my gangliness by conspiring to put me into a Parkour class. (Hint: I got a Groupon.)
For those not familiar with it, Parkour is “extreme urban running” as imagined by a crazy Frenchman named David Belle. It’s that thing they do at the beginning of Casino Royale and in those old Nike comercials. Here’s a video if you still don’t know:
Needless to say, I’m feeling tender today. Whole new parts of my body are sore in ways I did not know were possible. And yes…it was damn fun.
Here’s how a typical Parkour vault works. You run as fast as you can towards an object in your way, leap towards it headfirst, then right when you’re about to crash into it, you drop your arms down and push yourself ever so slightly over it. This presents two distinct problems for the novice.
- Hurling yourself headfirst towards an object seems inherently unwise.
- Using your arms to brake your fall seems inherently smart.
Unfortunately, neither of those insights will get you over the obstacle.
Hurling yourself headfirst without thinking things through is a typically entrepreneurial trait. It’ll work. Might be risky, but just do it. I think most entrepreneurs have this part down so I won’t go too much into it. Suffice to say, it is an act of crazy faith, backed up only by a vague understanding of the laws of physics and the belief that the second part of the equation will work. That is…the pivot.
The second part is where you touch your arms down ever so slightly. The trick here is that you’re going to put your arms down after you’re over the object. So you’re actually not pushing down off the object, but more away and behind you. You’re just adding a little extra boost to which pivots you from a painful headfirst collision to a badass monkey style dismount.
If you put your arms down too soon, you’re actually trying to stop your fall with your arms, which is not going to happen. If you don’t believe me, imagine catching a 185 lbs torpedo (my weight) with just your arms. Yeah…doesn’t sound pretty.
This is a typical situation in a startup. You’ve invested a tremendous amount of time trying to build up momentum, calling all friends to try your product, handing out flyers, coding coding coding, and pimping yourself to every VC with a checkbook….then all of a sudden…an obstacle in front of you. What’s to be done?
The sane thing would be to stop and go around it. Or pick a different direction.
But we’re entrepreneurs, so let’s get past the sane stuff. We want to conserve momentum. We keep going forward, hurl ourselves violently at the impending doom of a metal barrier, and then make a slight midair pivot and keep going.
This series of minor pivots allows us to keep going and avoid the stop start of a big company. That’s the type of start and stop where projects get cancelled, execs get fired, budgets get swallowed by financial crises,etc. We know that if the company grinds to a halt, it will be incredibly difficult if not impossible to get going again. Our finances will run out, morale will deteriorate, and our financial backers will be unlikely to invest another round in a “new direction”.
What we really need is not to stop. Any obstacle can be overcome and it doesn’t mean the vision is wrong. We need to be lean and nimble, pivoting as we maintain momentum. We need to be graceful. In the spirit of l’art du déplacement We need to…and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this…be a little bit more French.
See you at Parkour class,
P.S.: If you’re in San Francisco and would like to go to a class, let me know. I need someone more gangly than me at the class for encouragement.