Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Run your business barefoot

Recent studies have shown that the more you spend on running shoes, the more likely you are to sustain injury. Apparently, the more you swaddle and coddle your feet the more they will eventually let you down. This Sneaker Paradox was uncovered by a few crazy runners who decided to listen to their feet rather than the marketing messages of large shoe companies, and found they ran further, faster, with fewer injuries when they ran with little or no support. Barefoot running is a growing movement.

Apparently over 25% of the bones in your body are found in your feet. They have been finely tuned over the millennia to accommodate, adjust, and alleviate stress on the rest of your body as you cruise over the earth’s challenging terrain. But when you pad and protect them it impedes these inherent abilities, like taking a finely tuned surgical tool and wrapping it in gauze. And not only does all this protection disable your feet and invite injury, it sets up a negative spiral: Like children, the more we protect them the weaker they become, which pushes us toward more support, greater likelihood of injury, and the cycle continues.

WOW! Think about this for a minute. The market has convinced millions of us to part with our hard earned dollars on a pair of shoes that do exactly opposite of what they claim.

Where else are we being deceived?

I’m thinking that the Sneaker Paradox applies to the Profit=Success=Happiness model in business as well. It’s the fundamental premise behind our Free Market economy. Yet it has delivered exactly the opposite of what it promises. This simple equation explains and justifies the greed that drives our traditional markets and makes it possible for a small group of fabulously wealthy to feel ok about earning multi-million dollar bonuses while destroying the lives of countless others.

And yet, if a group of die-hard marathoners can discover startling truths by simply listening to their feet, so too can we by simply listening to the wisdom of our hearts rather than the market rules which have led us to the heartache and disaster we find ourselves facing now.

With many of us cutting back on stuff, we're finding out, whether we like it or not, that less can sometimes be more and that by shedding stuff we get back in touch with what actually makes our hearts happy. When we let the market tell us what we want we buy into an endless cycle of greed, grab, and regret. We want the next gadget, bonus, raise, whatever, and then we’ll be happy. For a few minutes. And then it’s on to the next gadget, bonus, raise, whatever. There’s always someone out there earning more, some other company doing better. It’s an endless game that has sucked us all in from time to time.

Most of us took some kind of hit this past year. It was difficult to watch our growth, our investments, our dreams take a hit, sometimes a very big hit. We found ourselves at the bottom of a cliff, dusting ourselves off and looking back up to where we were just months ago and wondering if we have it in us to claw our way back to the top again. Especially knowing that when we were there it didn’t seem like the top, but just another step along the way to that ever elusive peak we were reaching for.

Now might be a good time to rethink the wisdom of the market and whether the ever present promise, and ever elusive goal, of true happiness can be found following the trail we were on.

Think back to the last time you were happy. Not even a big happy - but an hour that held laughter, love, or inspirational joy. Chances are it had nothing to do with stuff. Chances are it had to do with some other being, sharing laughter or pain, helping out or being helped, sharing, caring, contributing, connecting.

This isn’t to say that profits aren’t important – they are, but as a means to an end, not the end itself. It’s like food: If you’re starving, getting enough to eat becomes the primary focus and goal. But once sated, eating more and more will not make you more and more satisfied. Yet our fundamental business model operates as if there is no end to the happiness that gluttony will shower upon us. That’s how the Wall Street fat cats have been acting. The revolting excess we’ve seen in recent years is all too clearly the result of a market that doesn’t understand that profitability should be a metric of business health not the ultimate measure of its success.

If we can muster the courage to listen to the wisdom of our hearts we will come up with our own business formulae. Here are three possible examples:

  • Contribution=Success=Happiness.
  • Great Environment=Success=Happiness.
  • Excellence=Success=Happiness

Maybe you have another. Maybe a blend of multiple things creates the perfect mix for you. For your business. Try some out and see how they feel.

I started running recently. It’s too cold for barefoot running, but I found the thinnest soled $19 river runners I could find, and my feet are happier than they were in my big expensive running shoes. I plan to listen to my feet and my heart more this year.