The power of faith in action is greater than the shadow of self-doubt.
Theme: Overcoming Obstacles
Length: 1,000 words
Reading Time: 3.5 minutes
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
The Jack’s last post, Forming the Vision of Achieving a Goal (2022-4-6), revealed the power of vision, imagination, and faith. In this post, I’ll review one man’s accomplishment, and further down, we’ll see how his belief quickly spread to others who then accomplished the same feat.
One of the things that holds men back from achieving great accomplishments (or even simple tasks, really) is self-doubt or a lack of belief. Roger Bannister’s story came to my mind as one of the more apt examples of how negative self-talk, as my sales trainers of old would call it, limits what is possible for people. The following exerpt is from a Harvard Business Review article which I’ve pasted below because they limit the number of views before you have to pay for the subscription. Here is the link.
Harvard Business Review (Bill Taylor): What Breaking the 4-Minute Mile Taught Us About the Limits of Conventional Thinking (2018-03-09)
Most people know the basic story of Roger Bannister, who, on May 6, 1954, busted through the four-minute barrier with a time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second. But it was not until I decided to write about him for my book Practically Radical, and read a remarkable account of his exploits by the British journalist and runner John Bryant, that I understood the story behind the story — and the lessons it holds for leaders who want to bust through barriers in their fields. Bryant reminds us that runners had been chasing the goal seriously since at least 1886, and that the challenge involved the most brilliant coaches and gifted athletes in North America, Europe, and Australia. “For years, milers had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them,” he notes. “It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. And like an unconquerable mountain, the closer it was approached, the more daunting it seemed.”
This was truly the Holy Grail of athletic achievement. It’s fascinating to read about the pressure, the crowds, the media swirl as runners tried in vain to break the mark. Bryant also reminds us that Bannister was an outlier and iconoclast — a full-time student who had little use for coaches and devised his own system for preparing to race. The British press “constantly ran stories criticizing his ‘lone wolf’ approach,” Bryant notes, and urged him to adopt a more conventional regimen of training and coaching.
So the four-minute barrier stood for decades — and when it fell, the circumstances defied the confident predictions of the best minds in the sport. The experts believed they knew the precise conditions under which the mark would fall. It would have to be in perfect weather — 68 degrees and no wind. On a particular kind of track — hard, dry clay — and in front of a huge, boisterous crowd urging the runner on to his best-ever performance. But Bannister did it on a cold day, on a wet track, at a small meet in Oxford, England, before a crowd of just a few thousand people.
When Bannister broke the mark, even his most ardent rivals breathed a sigh of relief. At last, somebody did it! And once they saw it could be done, they did it too. Just 46 days Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, but with a shorter time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.
Well, what goes for runners goes for leaders running organizations. In business, progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some innovator changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for. That’s Roger Bannister’s true legacy and lesson for all of us who see the role of leadership as doing things that haven’t been done before.
In fact, two Wharton School professors have analyzed the lessons for business of the four-minute mile. In their book, The Power of Impossible Thinking, Yoram Wind and Colin Crook devote an entire chapter to an assessment of Bannister’s feat, and emphasize the mindset behind it rather than the physical achievement. How is it, they wonder, that so many runners smashed the four-minute barrier after Bannister became the first to do it? “Was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution? Was there a genetic engineering experiment that created a new race of super runners? No. What changed was the mental model. The runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the four-minute mile. When that limit was broken, the others saw that they could do something they had previously thought impossible.”
Because I ran competitively, I’ve known this story for decades. What I still find amazing is how many men started breaking the 4-minute mile mark once they KNEW it was possible. This is the power of mental attitude in limiting possibility. This obviously does not mean that you can overcome anything, but it does cause one to ponder just how much we let that little voice in our heads limit us.
Note: Sir Roger Bannister died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March 2018, at age 88. RIP!