The Kentucky Derby is on Saturday. It is, in my mind, the single greatest two minutes of the year. Twenty of the most beautiful horses in the world, carrying the hopes and dreams of hundreds of talented and determined owners and breeders and trainers and exercise riders and jockeys and grooms and support staff and fans, line up and then explode for a mile and a quarter of the most dramatic and powerful mess of thrashing legs and brightly colored jockeys and impossible dreams you could ever imagine. When it´s all over, one horse has become an eternal legend and 19 others will never get another chance to become a Derby champion again.
Since the Derby is all I can think about these days anyway, I figured I may as well see what productivity lessons we can draw out of the spectacle:
1) Less is more – Really, the Derby is the ultimate test of productivity. The horses and jockeys have to take their finite resources and use them in a way that will get them over the finish line first. Each jockey must weigh 124 pounds, no more and no less, and that includes his or her clothing and equipment, and even the saddle they will sit on. That doesn´t leave much room for anything but the most bare of necessities. Those jockeys have to control an animal that weighs 10 times more than they do, is many times stronger than they are and has adrenaline pumping through them by the gallon. They can´t rely on tools, or tricks, or software packages. They must fall back on skill and feel and instinct to survive and thrive. It´s a very simple equation — basically the same one as when the first person climbed onto the back of the first horse. In much the same way, we can look less towards outside aids to make us more productive and look more inside ourselves to find the ways.
2) Be flexible — Every trainer and jockey will go into the race with a plan of the race they would like their horse to run. The problem is that there are 20 horses running and those plans won´t all be able to co-exist. Some horses will be hoping for a slow pace, while others will be exploding out of the gate like a ball out of a cannon. Even if they do get the race they are hoping for, there will be horses cutting them off or impeding their ability to do what they want to do. The horse that perseveres and wins the race will be the one that is best able to adapt to the conditions that pop up and stays focused on the ultimate goal. In our lives, there is almost never a day that goes how we intended it to. If we can roll with the punches and keep focused on where we want to end up, we´ll probably get there.
3) Optimism is essential — There are 35,000 thoroughbred foals born in the U.S. each year. Very, very few of them are owned by people who haven´t had some kind of a daydream about winning the Kentucky Derby, no matter how unrealistic that goal may seem. When they are born each of those horses is a possible champion, but then some run too slowly, some get injured and some aren´t able to run the distance, so the 35,000 is whittled down to the 20 starters. By about 6:05 p.m. ET on Saturday, the race will be over and 19 of the 20 trainers and owners and jockeys will be crushed. They were all sure they were going to win, they didn´t and now that horse will never have another chance in the Derby. Here´s what I love most about horse racing — by Monday morning everyone involved will be thinking and planning and dreaming about next year´s Derby, certain that that´s when they´ll have their chance. It is that resilience and optimism that got them to where they are — the very top of their sport — and it is the same ability to shoot for the very top, regroup when you miss, reload and shoot again that makes them so incredibly productive in their professions.
Now, the important part — who´s going to win? Brother Derek, the favorite, is owned by a guy who lives in my hometown, so I´m pretty loyal there, but keep your eye on a horse named Jazil. He´s a longshot who could surprise. Just think of me if he does (and I´ll deny having told you anything if he doesn´t).