17 December 2012

A great disturbance


Those of you who follow along on my adventures via social media may have noticed a strange -- and possibly disturbing -- trend lately. To wit: Many of my posts have nothing to do with bicycles. In fact, I would say "most" of my posts are not of the two-wheeled variety.

Wait, what?!

I still remember my last mountain bike ride, a quick jaunt around Bent Creek on Thanksgiving Saturday, after wrecking my rack, my cx/road bike and the back of my car in a fit of stupidity that I wish I could say I've only experienced once in my life. It was fantastic, and I made an extra effort to catch air wherever I could, before rolling back to Kim's car, shivvering and satisfied, just before darkness overtook me.

The road is a bit more forgiving, and I think I've ridden twice since then. Mostly, though I've been running -- truth be told, really, even that isn't as consistent as I'd like.

What I've been doing is working. And studying.

Wait, what?!

Sure, I work in the bike industry. And yes, I can sneak out for a lunch ride now and then. Only, for years I've been saying that what our industry needs is more folks who aren't "bike people" -- if companies are going to survive, we need smart, educated folks with experience outside the Sands Convention Center. The funny thing is, though, I am finally coming to grips that I've been ignoring my own Kool-Aid.

Not anymore.

I started to get really inspired when I tore through the biography of Steve Jobs. Isaacson's portrayal reminded me of a few folks I used to know; more importantly, it dawned on me that we have a similar opportunity within the walls of Cane Creek. We're reinventing ourselves and the world around us, and holy crap, WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY!

After that came Moneyball. And The Search. The Long Tail. Why We Buy. "Fast Company." I reactivated a neural network I put to rest nearly a decade ago, one that I let get beat out of me by the perceptions of a toxic, misogynistic, egomaniacal environment followed by the self-determination that I would live an idealized lifestyle, not be a -gasp- "middle manager."

The crazy thing is, this time around, I'm having fun.

When I joined Cane Creek, I naturally started to focus more of my attention on the industry. My reading habits became less cyclingnews.com, more "Bicycle Retailer." All the same, on some level I've been holding back for one reason or another, and it wasn't until a few months ago (oddly, about the same time I might have been in Vegas for the annual trade show) that something finally clicked: I actually don't have much bike industry experience. Most of my professional life has been in insurance. Or cars. Or agency work. Consulting.

And I finally realized: That matters. I can use that. It's not a liability. I can help shape the future of this industry by tapping into this knowledge and experience that I never really thought was all that relevant.

Do or do not. There is no try.

Now, for some of you, this may seem pretty elementary. But for me, in this environment, this industry, it was pretty revolutionary, at least to myself. It's the culmination of a lot of angst, feeling the heat and getting burned a few times, and finally realizing that to be an agent of change, you must embrace and become the change yourself fully -- the middle ground is, in retrospect, the too-easy path. And while I like to think I've not been a slouch, neither have I taken on completely my responsibility to myself.

Until now.

On some level, yeah, I'm a bike guy. I always will be. But while my coworkers have been geeking out on the latest products on Bikerumor, I've been watching the developments at Google with a lot of interest -- Once upon a time I built an open-source inference engine to aid in field diagnosis for paramedics, and as we lurch ever-closer to a successful Turing Test, I am fascinated by the possibilities. I say this not to brag, but as an example of a new way of thinking: Computer science, retail theory, statistical baseball -- these are the fields from which we can draw to ensure a future for the bicycle industry. We must escape the gravitational pull that has thus far destroyed the ski and golf industries, and I believe it's only by the grace of our own backwardness that we have survived as long as we have. Thinking outside the bike will be the only way to leapfrog the fate that now faces us. And I want to be right there, taking hold of that future.

May the Force be with us. Always.

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