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.

07 December 2012

Keeping the streak alive

I have this really weird ability: It seems that no matter what happens, no matter how hard I apply myself -- or don't -- I just can't make it past 3 years in a job. A couple of stints have been noticeably shorter, and one lasted 6 months longer (though it was over before it was over), but by and large, the mantra of my professional career has been three-and-out, thankyouverymuch and don't let the door hit you as it closes. It's not personal, I'm not bitter -- it's just the way it has worked out.

I thought Cane Creek would be different. I was looking forward to some longevity. But here I am, at 2 years and 51 weeks -- just one week short of my 3 years -- and everything's changing. I really thought I had a chance to make this my longest job ever, provided I make it to May 13, 2013, one day after my 40th birthday -- that would make my stint exactly 3 years, 6 months, and 1 day.

It's not gonna' happen.

Instead, starting more or less immediately, I'm taking on a whole new set of challenges. Well, not "whole new," not exactly. But different. Strange. More broad. Bigger.

How big?

Big.

Like, Leonardo DiCaprio big.

"Whole world" big.

Big enough that I have to start using abbreviations in polite company ... and in my email signature.

It's been brewing for a while: I am taking on responsibility for every Cane Creek product we sell that doesn't already come on your bike. From my beloved Pony Shop in Evanston to the guy in his pajamas calling for headset help to the massive warehouses in Germany to the street-corner shop in Surrey or Melbourne or Tokyo or Moscow, it's now my job to watch over the worldwide wheels of commerce and keep them moving smoothly.

I guess it's more or less official: I am in the process of becoming the Director of Global Aftermarket Sales and Customer Service for Cane Creek Cycling Components.

That's a bit of a mouthful. And one hell of a legacy.

For those of you not familiar, Cane Creek is an icon in the bicycle world. Rock Shox got its commercial start on a fixture we still use to this day, one that sits not 50 feet from my office. The threadless headsets we championed and marketed revolutionized modern bicycle design and paved the way for suspension forks as we know them. More recently, our adaptation of rear suspension design from motorsports is rewriting what's possible -- and along with that, necessitating a whole new approach to customer service and education.

But for those of you who are familiar, you know the bicycle industry tends to chew up and spit out its icons. For whatever reason -- passion, enthusiasm, luck -- bikes have thus far bucked many of the trends of the rest of the global economy, and the very public failures have tended to be pretty obvious internal combustion vs. outside market forces. However, that is changing rapidly, inexorably -- on a worldwide scale, selling bicycles and bicycle parts will be radically different in the next decade. None of us are quite sure what's coming, but we're seeing the trends begin to solidify -- calling them "good" and "bad" would be disingenuous: Our industry is pivoting on the buying habits of the modern consumer, and only those who can adapt will survive.

And now, that's my responsibility.

All of it.

Gulp.

The great news is, we have a fantastic team that's come together here, and we're unecumbered by the past. We're doing it right, we're doing it quick, we're doing it smart -- I haven't been this excited to come to work every day in a long, long time; really, since the best days of Legacy over a decade ago. We don't have bread days here, but maybe we can make that happen soon.

So three years it is. Time for another change.

Bring it on.