5 Business Lessons From The Open Road

Photo by Hugo Ramos on Unsplash

I grew up 10 miles from the nearest town, and 60 miles from the nearest supermarket. It took 10 years to get a Safeway near us, and that was still 30 miles away. I’ve spent a lot of time on the open road, from dirt to pavement, ice to mud, snow to sun, and I never stop learning things when I get behind the wheel. For me, driving is a sort of meditation, one that requires my undivided attention (thanks, 5-speed transmission! love you!) and necessitates constant preparation.

Business Lessons From The Open Road

1 – Drive your business like you drive a car – your own way.

I drive a ‘99 Ford Ranger and I live here in 2018. It’s a bit smaller than I might want, it has a few upgrades, but it needs work and it’s all I need. Why do I think this is a good analogy? The best businesses that I know are the ones that say, “This is who I am.” and live off of just being themselves.

It’s perfectly fine if you don’t create the next Amazon, the next Netflix. There are only so many F1 drivers in the world, and not everyone has the time, resources, or disposition to be successful there. Be true to yourself, and make your business true to who you are.

2 – The road isn’t always smooth, but take your time and get there.

On the last road trip we took, we were moving. We packed a Budget truck, put a trailer on the back, threw my little Ranger on top of that, and took off. The wind was fierce and kept shaking the trailer so bad that I thought we might flip the whole thing. It got dicey a few times and we ended up slowing down a lot. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from a late night of packing, and even had to pull over to nap. The point is, I did what it took to get there in one piece.

You will write a business plan, you’ll have the vision and your heart will be full-to-bursting with excitement over your new venture. Keep that alive, but keep your head enough to know that it’s okay to slow down, change plans, or take a detour, as long as it keeps you alive and keeps you moving.

3 – Communicate, have patience, love people.

The more you communicate on the road, the better chance you have of finishing your drive. Turn signals kill assumptions, headlights save lives. Driving lanes are bounded by paint lines, creating boundaries that help us all make it home safe. Horns were made for a reason – learn how to use it and when it’s appropriate (Dear California – the answer is NOT “All the time.” -Sincerely, Colorado).

My wife and I talk a lot, but we have to set and reset boundaries all the time. Clearinity is in a state of construction, so my communication should be as well. Just as roadwork changes the flow of traffic, so too does stress change the way we communicate. Talk, be patient, and keep loving people, because good business is about good relationships.

4 – Prepare, Execute, and then Debrief.

As I alluded to before, there was a nasty wobble in the trailer on the main journey. I had a second chance to tow my truck with the rental, so I stopped to analyze what I’d like to try differently this time. The only thing kinda-sorta-wrong was how I was lined up on the trailer. If the rails are only 8 inches wide, could 3 inches to the left make a difference? In short, yes. By lining up perfectly in the middle, the next 150 mile trip had zero problems (compared to the several-dozen from before).

You’ll run into similar problems in your business. My weight distribution on the trailer, coupled with the uneven wind-tunnel effect from the box of the rental truck, was just enough to create a dangerous driving scenario. I found this in my “debrief” section, where I ask myself:

  1. What went well?

  2. What went poorly?

  3. What could I try differently next time?

Regularly debriefing your business team is an excellent way to find new opportunities or fix poor ones. Do it regularly.

5 – Success isn’t final, failure is rarely fatal.

Your business success record will be a lot like your driving record. You only get a perfect record if you do things well all the time. You’ll make bad decisions in both scenarios. You may even be involved in an accident. As long as you make it out with your life, you have a chance to try again. Pause, reflect, understand why you survived, and ask what was beyond your control. Even in business, our successes are rarely our own and our failures are usually much better outcomes than what may have been. Thank those around you, help others out along the way, and be sure to hug someone when you make it back home.