Are you a runner? Then you probably know that Kenyan marathoner Geoffrey Mutai won the New York City Marathon this past weekend with a ho-hum time of 2:08:24. He and his fellow countrymen, who grabbed three of the top five slots, complained of windy conditions that kept them from running faster. Still, Mutai’s time sounds especially impressive to me, as it took me longer than that to pick my kids’ Halloween candy out of my teeth last Thursday night.
Note to self: no more Dots.
If you do the math, the winner averaged less than five minutes per mile on Sunday. Ninety-nine percent of humans on the planet will never run that fast, even if chased by an axe-wielding psychopath. Not to mention keeping that pace for 26.2 miles in the event said psychopath has been training.
Runners the world over scratch their heads at Kenyan success in distance races. What is it that makes them so fast? Is it their starchy diet? Training at altitude? Desire to rise out of poverty? Genetics?
David Epstein, senior editor at Sports Illustrated, set out to answer that question. And his findings are fascinating. You can read about them in this report from National Public Radio.
Whether you believe the conclusions, Epstein’s research is a lesson in highlighting key distinctions to identify the root causes. Because we often “run ourselves ragged” trying to figure out why that one sales person is hitting quota but others aren’t; why the new system implementation worked one place but not another; why one office or department consistently outperforms others and so on. So what can we learn from Epstein’s distinction analysis?
- Isolate the successes: Epstein found that successful runners weren’t just Kenyan. Rather they all come from one particular tribe called the Kalenjin. With your own problem, don’t rest on assumptions and high level information. Dig down and gather good data to ensure you really know what is happening in the higher performing person/area.
- Identify key distinctions: Once you’ve isolated successes, this is easier. There were many other runners that had similar diets, physical attributes, training regimens, and geography of the successful Kenyans. But Epstein concludes that there were just one or two things that were truly distinctive. You will often find the same is true for your situation.
- Strategically implement changes: Once you identify the key distinctions, make changes one-by-one, starting with the most probably distinction, to remedy the issue. If you change everything at once, you run the risk of wasting money on improvements that weren’t necessary or creating new problems that are difficult to trace back to a specific change.
So don’t run from your problems. In 35 of working with clients, we’ve seen how implementing a process-oriented approach can help save time and money. If you need to develop a training regimen for your organization, just call us and let’s talk it over (800) 386-5611.
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