Strategic Long-Range Planting

August 9th, 2009

Last week I got the high honor of being asked to join a SLRP (pronounced “slurp”) team at work. SLRP stands for strategic long-range planning, and it happens in August every year where I work. The concept is to build a small team with delegates from each of the relevant disciplines based on the topic. Our group includes reps from engineering, IT, operations and me from marketing.

The point is to go off, usually during what should have been your lunch hour, and determine what the company must do to substantially grow the business in a strategic area within a 3-5 year period.

At least 3-5 was the old window of focus. Everything is accelerating, so the VP leading our group asked us to focus on a 2-4 year window this time. The whole world can–and probably will–change in five years.

So what is our area of focus? Can’t tell you that. This is top-secret stuff. In 2-4 years, hopefully a lot of you will be using whatever it is we come up with. If that’s the case, our team will have something to brag about.

But here’s what I can tell you. The best analogy for good strategy, at least for my money, is not chess but planting. Could be a vegetable seed; maybe it’s a tree; or even a lawn. The act of gardening and landscaping is all about strategy.

Or is it strategery?

Every year I plant a little garden. Several varieties of tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, lots of herbs and corn. You know, the good stuff. And every year, I learn some way to improve my garden and I apply it the following spring when it’s time to plant again.

Early August usually finds me eagerly awaiting the first deep red tomatoes. There is almost nothing better than a home-grown tomato, and we got to enjoy the first ones of the season tonight.

Good with a capital G.

Good with a capital G.

Here’s how we like to eat the very first ones: Start with a nice slice of sourdough artisan bread. Drizzle a little olive oil on it and spread it around. Drop a slice of cheese on next (I prefer Swiss). Broil that in the oven or whatever you’ve got until the cheese is bubbly. Pull it out and top with slices of a homegrown tomato. Finish with salt, pepper and chopped basil.

That’s what summer tastes like for me ever since I was a kid.

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Unfair Doesn’t Begin to Describe It

August 6th, 2009

Tonight my good friend and neighbor lost his wife. It was anything but sudden. She has been  battling cancer for multiple years.

Hyperbole seems inappropriate so I will state some simple truths. Susan Nelson was a mother, a wife, a neighbor and possibly the most resilient person I will ever know. 

I mean that in the tenderst way I can express my sheer admiration for a life well lived.

And one more thing. She had become one of my wife’s best friends.

Susan took everything that cancer can possibly throw at a person, and with quiet dignity and a strength that was otherworldly, she stared it down and seemed to say, “Is that all you got? ‘Cause I’m still moving forward here.”

She beat the expectations of multiple medical experts not by weeks or even months, but by years.

There is one image from tonight that I hope is not a violation to share. Susan was still hanging in there when I returned home from work.  I stopped by to show support. After a brief visit with Elden at her bedside, I stepped into their backyard where Susan’s seven year-old twins were.

They are my friends (never seem to notice or care that I am an old duffer) and immediately invited me to jump on the trampoline with them. As I was preparing to join them for a bounce, their aunt came out in tears and urgently called the girls in to say goodbye to their mom one last time. 

I walked across the street to my house, trying to imagine what any one of Susan’s four kids must be feeling when they are summoned like that. After five minutes or so, I peeked through my shutters at the house across the street.

On the front porch was twin number 1 being consoled by her aunt and grandma and my wife. Out of their view, hidden by several parked cars and visible only from my vantage point, was twin number 2. Crouched down on the ground and crying.

She had retreated to a private spot to deal with the sight of her mother taking her last breath.

I lost it.

In the time it took me to compose myself so I could run over to her, the family noticed her absence and immediately tracked her down and swarmed around for support in that moment.

The picture of a seven year-old girl, who minutes before had the care-free generosity to invite me to jump on the trampoline with her, now crouching alone in sadness and confusion will stay with me for a long time.

But so will another image. Every boy within six blocks came over to support Elden’s sons within an hour. Every neighbor expressed their sorrow and willingness to continue to help. And Elden’s cycling buddies (also some of my oldest and best friends) started arriving to show solidarity and offer whatever they could. 

As neighbors and friends, we will be here for Elden and his daughters and sons. My wife cared deeply for Susan and I learned a lot about genuine service and love in the way that she was there for Susan right to the end.

If you aren’t already familiar with Elden Nelson’s blog, I recommend you pay a visit to www.fatcyclist.com and learn more about Susan’s amazing influence and courage in her battle with cancer.

–gb

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Open Source MX Track

August 4th, 2009

Open source software represents everything that is good about technology culture. The concept is simple and oh-so-democratic: Someone starts a thread of software code that will do something useful, like provide an alternate operating system, for example. Then they put their work out there in the public domain and invite like-minded folks to add on to it to increase its capabilities in new areas that contribute to the original utility.

Some amazing applications are emerging from this open source model.

So it got me to thinking… what about applying the same development concept to a motocross track?

The open source track building crew, July 2009.

The open source track building crew, July 2009.

Several years ago, my cousin stumbled across an abandoned MX track out in the sage brush in the small hamlet of Greenwich, Utah. It was clear that it had not been ridden in years, but there was a faded sign posted on the property that read “Go big or go home.” And, oddly enough, a very large and also very faded bra was hung from the sign.

He interpreted the sign to mean that anyone was welcome to ride so long as they actually RODE the track. What does that mean?

Well, the track has three large gap jumps that are no laughing matter for weekend warrior types, like me. The sign seemed to imply that others are welcome to ride so long as they don’t disrespect the track by simply rolling over the big jumps.

My cousin seemed to take the sign’s admonition to heart and harrassed me with exaggerated disapproving head shakes when he saw me slam on my brakes and roll over the big 40-footer.

“Third gear wide open! Just follow me,” he yelled in disgust.

I had all the small gaps figured out, but there is a huge mental aspect to hitting a big gap jump. It is the closest thing I’ve experienced to running a class V waterfall in that there is a point of no return that you must face without flinching.

xup-in-ksherm1

If you flich and lose focus once you’ve crossed over the point of no return, really bad things can happen. Like coming up short on the jump landing or missing the must-make line on a waterfall. Here are two examples of what I’m talking about:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDl3LDFPjIA&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SkU6opnBvE&feature=related

It wasn’t just the taunting from my cousin. I wanted to to hit that gap for the sheer thrill and because I don’t like leaving things undone. I knew I could clear it once I got into a flow on the rest of the track. So I put my mouthguard in (figuratively) and started putting in some hot laps, paying careful attention to my corner speed coming out of the turn right before the biggest gap.

The third time around I carried second gear through the final turn and flogged the throttle as I short-shifted up to third. Twenty feet out from the takeoff I was wide open and closing way too fast to do anything but embrace my leap into the void.

Welcome to the point of no return.

Given to fly.

Given to fly.

I made that gap, touching down softly 40 feet after taking off. But I digress. This is a post about open source track building.

We grew to love that abandoned track, big scary jumps and all. But we felt it could be improved in a few spots. My cousin put together a Visio drawing of where he wanted to add some value. Then we borrowed a tractor, formed a shovel brigade and went to work on adding to what was already a great track.

That was all two years ago.

This year we show up for our first session of the season and we find that someone else (no ideas who) has added an altogether new section–and it is hardcore! Big jumps and long whoops. Very nice, but it still needs polishing. Which is to say, it needs to be ridden–a lot.

So get your mouthguard out and blow the dust off your dirt bike and get on down to Greenwich, Utah. Old Schoolhouse Road to be exact. You’ll spot the 40-foot gap jump emerging out of the sage brush.

Oh, and bring a shovel.

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