Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Three Business Books

I have recently read three business books that have really opened my mind about the worlds of work and business. They are:

1. Good to Great by Jim Collins

also - www.jimcollins.com

2. Raising the Bar by Gary Erickson

also - www.clifbar.com

3. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

also - www.thelongtail.com

All three books made me do a re-think of some of my core beliefs about business and work.

In Good to Great, Collins ( who's wife I should say, for the triathletes reading this, is Joanne Earnst - one of the top triathletes in the early days of the sport) talks a lot about getting the right people on the bus, and not worrying so much at first about what seats those people are in or where the bus is going. In an ideal situation, you want to have a bus load of absolutely amazing people, that are extraordinarily passionate about working for the betterment of that company. Thats all they want to see - the company moving forward. The problem is so many companies fret a lot about who is in what seats and where they are going. We seem to live in an age of specialists - and a generalist, who may actually be better over the long term get s, shunted aside while specialists keep getting on and off the bus. As you can imagine this takes up an extraordinary amount of time and energy and many companies fiddle and fiddle with this, to get all the right people in the right seats on the bus. Then their is the direction - where are they going. Again, many companies choose the direction first, and then try and assemble the right people to get there. When Collins believes it should be the other way around - get the right people on the bus to begin with, and they'll figure out where they are going and they'll know how to get there!

In Raising The Bar, Erickson first talks about turning down a $120 million dollar offer from a large multi-national food company to buy Clif bar - a company he had founded. Many thought he had lost his marbles! Who in their right mind would turn down such money? But to Erickson it was about more than money, it was about proper stewardship and the ultimate direction of something that he created. The easy option was to take the money. The more challenging and ultimately interesting choice was to keep it going and see where he and his team at Clif could really go with it. Erickson's key metaphor was the the red road or the white road - as a keen cyclist, wwhich would road did he prefer to ride on? The red roads are the big super highways. The white roads were the meandering back roads. If you know maps, you will know what Erickson is talking about . I'm a keen cyclist. I know exactly what he is talking about. The message and the metaphor was clear as day for me. Like Erickson, I am always looking for the white road to ride on - it's way more interesting ride. You see more. You are challenged more. In the end, you gain more. It's not without it's risks. The road may turn to gravel. Or their may be no place to get water or food for many miles, if at all. and lodging and mostly anything you need every 10 - 20 miles on most super highways or interstates. Business is better on the white road. Every day can and is an adventure, but you feel way more fullfiled when you reach your goal(s), because you know that it's, for the most part well earned and you have done it un-supported and under your own strength and skill.

Anderson's Long Tail is a bit different. It's an explanation of a transition that is underway, that many are perhaps not that tuned into - if you will excuse the pun. The example and metaphor is the music business and how it has been completely and totally transformed by the internet. Years ago Top 40 pop music played on radio ruled. The big record companies kept churning out those top 40 hits either from known bands, or manufactured bands within the big record companies/labels that were almost guaranteed to be a hit. The internet changed all this. The biggest music retailer in the U.S. now is Wal Mart, but Wal Mart can only sell a small percentage of the total amount of music that is out there. Predictably, Wal Mart sticks to tried a true hits, and a few select artists who every one knows. What if you are into Ambient Dub? Good luck finding anything like this, such as music, of say Thievery Corporation, on the shelves at Wal Mart. You will not find this sort of music or artists in Wal Mart - but you will find it at Amazon.com or a number of pay-per-down-load sites such as iTunes, or free down load sites such as Limewire or Web based social music sites such as Imeem.com, because all of these online sites are not restricted by shelf space and distribution costs, like Wal Mart is, they give you access to not several thousand CD's and tunes, they give you access to millions of tunes!! - voila, you are out in the Long Tail looking for that Ambient Dub tune, by Thievery Corporation. And guess what, all these niche and obscure choices out in the Long Tail, they add up to 50% of the total sales on site such as iTunes - about equal to all the top 40 hit tunes that are sold! As I said many are totally unaware of this transition and transformation of the way we do things, but it's underway and here to stay and is already transforming they way many companies both big and small market and sell their product(s).

I know in terms of how I source the new music that I am into, and want to listen to, that I now do this in the Long Tail. I gave up listening to Top - 40 radio years ago. Now I source new music from reviews that I read on-line or suggestions for songs, and artists, or albums from other people's play-lists on sites such as Imeem.com Or even blogs like this, that talk about music and review new CD's. Or notice how I am endorsing and reccomending these three books via my own blog. The book publishing business has been transformed by this as well, says Anderson in the Long Tail and blogs are key to getting reviews and information!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ironman Hawaii Final Recap - Now Home

First, I was trying to load a bunch more pictures on here for people to have a look at, but, I must say that the blogger edit software is a bit of a pain to work with for lots of pictures. Perhaps it was not meant to be used for such purposes. Therefore, I have put a full selection of Ironman Hawaii pictures up on my Face Book page. Link is below:


Paolina( Pictured above - Photo by Jay Prasuhn, Triathlete Magazine) had a great race to finish 22nd. She was a bit conservative with the pacing on the bike and early on in the run, but I, think that was better for her, given the fact that she was really only at about 75% fitness going in due to some semi-serious injuries that had her missing 6 weeks of key training time. Bodes well for the future if she can get to the start line at close to 100%. I can see her really moving up. The heat did not seem to bother her and she is keen to have another go at it next year if she can qualify again. So now we are weighing odds and chances at various early season Ironman races for next year.

From previous posts, readers will know that for me, this was a return to Ironman Hawaii after 15 years. The last time I was in Kona for the race was in 1993. Goodness gracious, the internet was not even up and running at that point and here I am on a blog!! I have documented some of the changes in a previous post. The full story and the rest of the details will be published in the December issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada. I will keep you posted as to when it hits new-stands.

There was some post-race partying to be sure. Most notably the K-Swiss After Party at Huggos, which was conveniently located almost across the street from the Billfisher - the place where we were staying. Nice. It rained cats & dogs at the Awards Banquet, which was a shame, as many people left and many of the top Age-Groupers and just about all the Pros really did not get the recognition from their peers that they truly deserved. As an aside, I was the winner of an Ironman Hawaii prediction pool for the race that was organized by some of the Victoria Crew - Client Lien et al. I won $200. Not bad! Thanks Clint for letting me in the game.

After the race we rented a car for two days - a convertible Chrysler Sebring. Got a great deal through Hotwire. In all the years of renting various cars for work and pleasure, I had never had a convertible. Nice treat and, what better place than the Big Island of Hawaii to be able to take in all of the great views with the top down. So off we went - to South Point one day and also down to Volcanos National Park the second day. Stopped off at the Black Sand Beach enroute to the Volcano to see that and swim with the Sea Turtles - which we did.

One more night in Kailua and then it was time for the 20+hour marathon back to Toronto. It was rather uneventful. No mix-ups with connections. No lost bags. We did have 5 hours in the Honolulu airport, so we took a cab to the Pearl Harbor Museum & Memorial which was near the airport. There was not enough time to do the full Memorial tour, so we opted to just look at the exhibits and some of the other things in the museum and surrounding area. It was very interesting - particularly learning more about the run up to the actual Japanese attack and how it came about. Disheartening also, that so many people lost their lives here who had no real chance to defend themselves.

Kona to Honolulu to Atlanta to Buffalo and then the 2 1/2 hour drive back to Aurora. Loved coming back across the boarder into Canada and having the following very intimidating conversation with the Canadian Customs Officer:

"Where do you live?".


"Where were you?"


"Have a nice day".

"Thank you, Sir"

Never even asked for the Passports!

It felt good to be home.

Now it's back to the routine - Paolina has a ton of her hair styling clients to get to and I am digging out from a mountain of Nineteen wetsuit stuff. That's it for now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Very Sad Day

I received a phone call on my cell from home during the actual Ironman Hawaii race as I was standing on the side of the road on the bike course, part way up the hill to Hawi in Hawaii, that I had been dreading. Our dog Maxwell had not been well - severe arthritis had made him almost immobile, plus he had a serious growth of some sort in one of his elbow joints that was causing him significant pain. He had done further damage to the elbow just by trying to get up and now was totally immobile. He was 12+ years old and our Vet had said that perhaps it was time. I was completely overcome with emotion standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere on the Kona Coast, but I knew that it was the right thing to do. I felt terrible that I was half way around the world at this critical point, but I knew that he was in good hands at home.

Max, had a great life. He was my running buddy years ago. He had swum and fetched sticks and balls in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and just about every other body of water he ever walked or run by. His preferred state like most Labs was, wet, muddy and cold! He was loved by many in a large and extended family. He in turn loved everyone he ever met. He was gentle, friendly, and reliable and always there for me or anyone else in the family. I will miss him dearly.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Assorted Images From Ironman Hawaii

No time to write anything to involved now ans time is tight. Tomorrow is the big day. The 30th Ironman Hawaii will start at 7:00 local time. I have loaded up some pictures and comments to give a bit of flavour for the past few days.

Paolina's bike in race-ready mode. All tuned up, dialed in and ready to go!

Heather Fuhr, Paula Newby-Fraser and Peter Reid - Ironman Hawaii winners all, signing autographs at the Expo. Pete says he has been asked numerous times if he is racing! I can confirm absolutely, that the three time IMH Champis enjoying retirement and has no plans of a come-back.

Paolina, our friend David Ahrens from Toronto and then perhaps the three best coaches in the sport of triathlon - Barrie Shepley, Joel Filliol, and Paulo Sousa!

If it's Thursday before IM, it must be time for the underpants run. It's a long story that I will have to save for another day. Here's Paolina with Louis and Elvis!

Even though she is racing, my wonderful wife knows the medicinal value and recovery properties of a nice Merlot.

Yours truly, relaxing with a Longboard Ale, a nice local brew at the Kona Inn, the spot to watch the sunset in Kailua with a nice drink.

Every morning starts with a big mug of Kona Coffe

Cliff English and last year's second plave finisher Sam McGlone(unfortunatly out with a foot injury) at the morning swim.

Paolina hamming it up for the camera before our swim.

Morning swim scene and it is quite the scene!

Paolina greeting a cruise ship as it comes into Kailua bay. When these folks come ashore for tours, they must think this super-fit spandx clad crowd of Ironman athletes to be rather strange!

Time to check the bike in!

Paolina and her Timex team-mate Rachel Ross.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Another Kona Update

Busy day today in Kona at Ironman Hawaii.

I met with Jeff Keil, from Colorado, one of Nineteen's sponsored age-group athletes at the morning swim. Jeff has been one of the top age-group finishers here in Kona in the past and we are proud to be working with him this year. He's going to be wearing one of the new Nineteen Frequency SS( Speed Skins) in the race, and I needed to get him his suit.

Very busy down at the pier this morning. Bumped into all kinds of people that I know - endless list. I was planning on being there for about 30 minutes but this easily stretched into an hour and a half really easily. Chrissie Wellington, who won the women's race last year, and is the huge favourite to wins again this year, and possibly challenge some of the all time best course times, of the great Paula Newby-Fraser, was at the pier this morning and caused a bit of a frenzy with the media, other athletes and gawkers. This was as about as paparazzi as it gets in the sport of triathlon!

Paolina and I met up with my friend Joe Foster. The plan was for Paolina to ride with Joe out from Waikiloa out to part way up to Hawi and back. The ride went well and it gave me the opportunity to travel along in the car and pass up water bottles and encouragement. The ride went well and it let Paolina see some of the more technical parts of the course.

Lot's of other riders out on the bike course near town and also out on the section that we were on as well. We saw Torbjorn Sindballe, being motor-paced by someone on a scooter out near the look-out past the airport. He was moving along very fast.

It was the Parade of Nations tonight and Paolina took part with her Team Timex team- mates tossing out Timex Swag for the crowds on the parade route.

I bumped into three time Ironman Hawaii Champ Peter Reid this morning. It was good to see Pete again. He was back here in Kona doing some promo work for Specialized and leading a group ride this afternoon for people test riding Specialized bikes.

As some of you know I am working on a story on the changes in the Ironman Hawaii even in the last 15 years since I was last here 15 years ago. Below is a list of some of the things I know for a fact are very different based on what I have seen in the past few days:

- No underpants run – People actually did the whole race in a speedo! Seriously!

- No internet – you had to wait a month until Inside Triathlon and Triathlete came out with there November issues

- No Cervelo – Phil White & Gerard Vrooman were poor post Graduate Engineering Master’s students at McGill University

- No Slowtwitch – See no Internet!

- No Ford – The sponsor back then was Izusu, I think!

- No wind – ’93 set the standard for calm and cool by IMH Standards – it even rained in Hawi that year.


- No 70.3 races!

- No need to enter IM races a year ahead of time!
- No Compression socks, no powermeters, no super aero-frames, no salt pills

. . . . . and so on.

More photos on the day. Thanks for reading:

Testing the new Nineteen SS(Speed Skin) - it's fast!

View of the Queen K Hwy from the car - it's not that scenic!

Paolina and our friend Joe Foster on the recon ride past Waikiloa
This is were Nineteen wetsuits got it's name - Hwy 19 or the Queen K Hwy. Over 80% of the Ironman Hawaii bike and runs courses take place on Hwy 19, but most call it the Queen K.
Paolina's Timex team bike in race trim.

Scene from the Ironman Hawaii Parade of Nations.

Team Timex Pre-Parade strategy session

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ironman Revisted - Fleck's Back In Kona

It's still the same. You step out of the plane on the tarmac at the Kona airport and that hot, humid air hits you. You first thought is, how can I ever do an Ironman in these conditions..

This time I am not racing, I am hear supporting my wonderful Wife Paolina. However, for me it's a bit of a trip down memory lane. I have not been to the big Island since 1993 when I raced here in Ironman Hawaii for the 2nd, and as it turned out last time. There have been a lot of changes in the event and in the sport, in the intervening 15 years and I hope to chronicle some of those in a story that I am writing for Triathlon Magazine Canada to be published in the December issue. Fifteen years does not seem like a long time, but in a young sport such as triathlon, that is half a life-time ago! We have come a long way since then.

It may surprise many these days, that the sport of triathlon was in a bit of a slump in the early 90's after the buzz and hype of the early years in the '80's had worn off. Races did not sell out a year ahead of time!

Stay tuned and I will try and go over some of the many other changes as we work our way through Race Week.

We arrived late on Saturday night and immediately went to bed. It had been a long day travelling from Toronto. Sunday proved to be a bit of a recovery day for both Paolina and I after the 20 hour trip here, so we laid low and went for an easy swim in the afternoon. Already Kailua is a-buzz for the race this year as athletes are flooding into town.

This morning we have been to the Morning swim and have met many old friends and some new ones. Paolina is amazed at the clarity of the water in Kailua Bay and that you can see all kinds of fish while you swim. At first this freaked her out a bit but after two swims, I think she likes it. She is now out for a ride on the Queen K Hwy with some friends of her's from her Team - the Timex Pro Triathlon team. I am in the Media Room doing some writing at catching up on emails.

Last night it was a real pleasure to have a few drinks with some old friends, while watching the sun set at the Kona Inn. Apparently, some of this group have been doing this every night of race week for 26 years! Lot's of tall tales around the table.

Below are a few pics of the first day and a bit.

Paolina Checking out The Swim Start

The view from Lava Java having breakfast

Team Timex Heading Out for Ride.

Breakfast At Lava Java