What Change Making Hippies Could Learn From Nike Athletes

How can collaborative organisations “outrun” and perform better than the competitive society we live in? How can collaborative and cooperative startups, organisations or political ideas spread faster than the Ubers, Walmarts or Trumps of the world?

This is something that I’ve been looking up to as a collaborative hippy wanting to make change happen.

And for this I’ve always been quite inspired by sports. I love watching athletes at the peak of their performance. Football, basket, tennis, rugby, gymnasts, race-car drivers…

They are the incarnation that amazing results are possible. They are able to run faster, longer, jump farther, and outrun anyone else in the world.

But they are also the incarnation of many things my inner collaborative hippy doesn’t like. Some of the things I really dislike are the competitiveness of it. For a team to win the other one has to lose. Sports is always a zero-sum game. If you want to win, the other one has to lose. But life and happiness is not like that. Or at least not for most things.

Physical excesses and being hit are two other things I don’t like either. Most of the time, to reach the heights of their discipline, athletes have to ignore their own pain and push beyond their body’s limits. Leading them to enduring chronic injuries or depression after retiring.

But on the bright side, there are many other great things to get inspired about, like their mindsets. Athletes develop mental and physical grit. They know how to go to work every single day whether they are inspired or bored. And they look to become 1% better every day in any area. Which at the end of the year would make you over 37 times better (1³⁶⁵=37.8).

They’ve understood that to get to these “super-human” results, the secret is not to think of becoming the best, but to do the very slow and repetitive work that nobody else is willing to do. They’ve become the best by going beyond their fear and boredom more consistently than any of us can.

So I’ve taken to repeat and adapt this “boring” mindset that takes athletes to the peak of their practice, and taken away what doesn’t work for me.

Instead of doing competitive sports I’ve turned to non-competitive sports like Juggling or Freestyle Unicycling.

And instead of doing traumatic sports to push my mental resistance, I practice handstands and yoga. And I keep practicing deliberately trying to become 1% better every day. And it works. Every handstand is as hard as the first day, but I am now much stronger, flexible and can hold my balance much longer.

Little by little I have connected these dots from high performers to other practices and have found that we can take this mindset to make collaboration spread faster than competition. I now help many social and traditional companies improve their own performance, from getting more sales and spending less time at work, to creating more inclusive open source communities and regenerative solutions.

So how could we improve the world by looking at high performers?

1/ Know your numbers

Pat Riley, the coach of one of the most talented basketball teams of all times, was famous for pioneering this 1% technique. Following the 1986 season, Riley revealed a new program that he called the Career Best Effort program or CBE.

“When players first join the Lakers,” Riley explained, “we track their basketball statistics all the way back to high school. I call this Taking Their Number. We look for an accurate gauge of what a player can do, then build him into our plan for the team, based on the notion that he will maintain and then improve upon his averages.”

You’ll notice that Riley was interested in the average speed of his players. His first calculation was to see what a player’s normal day looked like, not his best day.

And you could calculate your own numbers to gauge how good you or your organisation are doing at fulfilling your collaborative mission.

If you were looking to create a regenerative design, you would be tracking that you are 1% better every day at:

  • Exploiting renewable resources no faster than they can be regenerated
  • Depleting nonrenewable resources no faster than the rate at which renewable substitutes can be developed
  • Emitting wastes no faster than they can be safely assimilated by ecosystems

Or if you are looking to create an inclusive and creative open source community, you would be tracking to improve at:

  • The rating of your documentation quality
  • The ease of installation of your code or design on different platforms and configurations
  • Participating and interacting in community spaces like Forums or Meetups
  • The number of people copying, contributing and maintaining your content

2/ Calculating Your Career Best Effort

If we take some of the ideas above, instead of looking to keep lowering the amount of resources you use, you could start calculating how much faster you can get it regenerated.

For example, if you are a circular economy restaurant, calculate how much food and nutrients you are extracting from rural areas to the city. Then calculate how much food waste and nutrients you’re giving back to the places your food was taken from, so that you can regenerate the degrading land.

These are some other areas where other successful social entrepreneur have applied this:

Reforest the deserts 1% faster every day

Afforestt does this with their permaculture technique. This indian company has developed a way to grow forest 10 times faster than with traditional techniques.

To make the technique grow forests even faster, the technique is released in Open Source so it doesn’t only depend on the company’s performance to create these positive results.

Make permaculture 1% more productive every day

The Bec Hellouin french farm is working on making each square meter of permacultural field more profitable. Their goal is to prove farmers that it is a sound economic decision to shift from an intensive agriculture to a more regenerative permacultural agriculture that uses no fertilizers or machinery.

Their first year, for one thousand square meters, the value of their production was 32,000€. The third year it was 55,000€. This means they have managed to create as much “money” with 10 times less land than intensive agriculture.

Create 1% less waste every day

Ecovative has created an affordable mushroom packaging that can be safely composted and competes with styrofoam and other polluting packagings.

Spread knowledge 1% faster every day

The wikipedia has been doing this for years. Growing the usage of its crowd-sourced platform. It went from 8 billion monthly page views in 2008 to over 15 billion monthly page views in 2017

3/ Habit Graduation to increase Your “Average Speed”

James Clear has written about the concept of “habit graduation.” That is, graduating from your current habit to one level higher. Basically, habit graduation is about increasing your average speed.

Here are some examples…

  • If your average speed is exercising twice per month, can you “graduate” that to once per week?
  • If your open source development is crazy and you can only work on your sparse documentation once every three months, can you schedule to work on your documentation into your calendar and “graduate” that habit to once per month?
  • If your average speed is growing ten hectares of forest per month, can you “graduate” that to ten hectares of forest per week?
  • If your product design’s average recycling rate is 50% for year 1, can you “graduate” that to 75% next year?

You get the idea. Habit graduation is about considering your goals and your current average speed, and thinking about how you can increase your output by just a little bit on a consistent basis.

Compare that habit graduation to how most of us go about our lives. We don’t track or measure the things that we care about. We make excuses, create rationalizations, and lie to ourselves about our daily performance. We have no evidence of whether we are performing better or worse compared to previous months or years. It’s not hard to see why the CBE program made the Lakers one of the most successful teams of its time.

What We Can Learn From Great Performers

Most change makers get motivated to work by the vision they have of a better and more beautiful world.

But many never get anywhere close to their vision because they have a hard time wrapping their minds around a certain fact. To get to change the world’s status quo they have to stick to the small habits and daily rituals of being a little better every day. World change never happens overnight.

Find out what you want to improve in the world, track how you can make sure you’re on the right path, and make slightly better decisions on a daily basis.

As James Clear says, “Working on the fundamentals is not impressive. Falling in love with boredom is not sexy. Getting one percent better isn’t going to make headlines.”

But if you really want to make a dent in the world, be sure of this though: it works.

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Jaime Arredondo
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