Paula Radcliffe is one of the greatest athletes of all time. She’s still the world-record holder for the Woman’s Marathon which she won in London 2003. She’s won almost everything you can for an elite long-distance runner. But, she had to train hard to get to where she did.
In a recent interview, she was asked how she won the London Marathon in 2003 and she went back to tell her story starting in 1985 when she first got started. She went on to tell of her relentless training programmes, her failures and her lessons. One of the most striking pieces of advice that took the interviewer by surprise, was that she never set herself distance, pace or speed targets. This is completely at odds with normal training practice where people set speed and distance targets to prove they’re making progress.
Paula describes her approach as one with no limits. She said that the targets got in her way. She found that when she hit a target she would relax and slow down rather than pushing to see what she was really capable of. So, she scrapped targets. She preferred to run using effort – easy runs, uncomfortable runs, all out runs, hard runs – and used feedback from her current position to adjust. In this way, she found out her limits and managed to keep pushing through. Her mantra was to set goals (i.e. to become world champion) and to focus on her best. And when her best became THE best then she broke records. She used the goals to keep track of whether her best was good enough.
Now, back to the world of product and software development: #noprojects and #noestimates are two movements in the industry that have similar intentions of removing attention from activities and behaviors that are not helping improvements. Both are trying to take away the focus of metrics that end up as externally imposed targets that take you away from doing your best. If you have the focus of continuing to improve, you will find out what your best is, and then keep improving until you become THE best.
Are there any metrics or targets you’re using today that might be counter-productive to your goal of becoming the best at what you do?