Notes and Reflections by feoMike

Great American Cyclists - Subtitle Innovation

This post is an ignite talk that i gave at a staff event yesterday.

Slide 1 - hello, this talk titled ‘Great American Cyclists Subtitled: Innovation’. I am using the term ‘cyclists’ here perhaps a little broadly. I am going to run through my top 10 great American cyclists, give a little of their background and round it all out w/ innovation. So humor me and quickly jot down who you think the #1 is.

Slide 2 - I thought since the Tour de France kicked off this past weekend, and we unfortunately lost to Belgium in the World Cup last week, that we should all take a brief moment to refresh ourselves with that other great American sport, cycling. Really what I want to do is describe how the bike made the world flat as Thomas Friedman suggests.

Slide 3 - So kicking right into gear, we start w/ #10 on the list, the person who shall not be named. Seriously, this person cheated, is likely this most arrogant person on the planet and a host of other things, but he won the world championship in 93, 7 Tours, kicked unbeatable cancer. He has to be on the list.

Slide 4 - #9 Rebecca Twigg. An amazing track cyclist. Her achievements cannot be underscored. 6 world championships, 16 US Championships, 3 time Olympian (medal’ing twice). She also took a personal stand against the US cycling establishment.

Slide 5 - #8 Greg Lemond. Oh mondieu! The photo in the upper left is Greg outsprinting perhaps the best single day racer in pro cycling history, Irishman Sean Kelly, for the worlds, in 1983, he won the tour 3 times, beating Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds; b/c his use of arrow bars in the upper right, really changed American cycling forever.

Slide 6 - #7 John Howard. Never heard of him? He set the US land speed record on a bike at 152 miles per hour. He was towed up to 70 miles per hour because the gears were so big he couldn’t turn them until that speed. 3 time Olympian, 4 time national champion, and won the iron man.

Slide 7 - #6 Lon Haldeman. Best known as the first to win the Race Across America, which is a ride from Santa Monica to New York ( 2,968 miles), roughly the same as the tour de France. The exception is these guys ride strait; notice his winning time of 9 days, 20 hours. He trained by riding in-doors on rollers in the basement in the dark for hours on end.

Slide 8 - #5 Connie Carpenter-Phinney. She was the first US female medal winner in cycling ever. Coincidentally she was also the first medal winner in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The middle picture here is her winning that gold medal edging out Rebbecca Twigg. She is a four 4 time medal winner in World Cycling Championships, and was the youngest female winter Olympian (in speed skating) ever at 14.

Slide 9 - #4 Marshal Taylor. came of age as a cyclist in the 1890s when US bicycle racing was very different and focused on track racing. He once held 7 world records, won 40 of 57 starts in Europe one year, was world champion in the 1 mile race. Perhaps mostly though he stared down racism that was rampant for African American athletes.

Slide 10 - #3 Gary Fisher / Tom Ritchey – these guys invented mountain biking. In the late 70s they cut up old Schwinn cruisers and started racing down Mt. Tam in Marin County California and brought forth a new American sport, mountain biking. Both of them raced, but both of them founded bike manufacturing companies that transformed a generation.

Slide 11 - #2 Eric Heiden for a long time the most accomplished Olympian ever (in speed skating), but he was a stellar pro cyclist. This photo is of his win in the 1985 US Pro Cycling Championship. Later he was a member of the first full US team in the Tour de France. He is also an MD, an orthopedic surgeon. Who thinks they know #1?

Slide 12 - #1 That’s right, the #1 Great American Cyclists are The Wright Brothers. The guys, who were first in flight, were actually bicycle shop owners. The owned a small shop in Dayton Ohio and actually produced their own line of bicycles. Their work with bicycles influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle could be controlled with practice.

Slide 13 - Did anyone guess #1? Who guessed more than 5 on this list? Who guess less than 5? Well lets do some meta analysis? Lets do some analysis on our cohort. Lets see if our group has any patterns or shows us anything interesting. lets group these into a couple of different categories;

Slide 14 - This group of cyclists were innovative themselves in the sport. Armstrong changed race tactics, diet, training, basically everything. Lemond was the first to use clip on bar, areo helmets and clipless peddles. Twigg and Carpenter were the first real icons of pro women’s cycling. Haldeman invented ultra marathoning. Fisher and Ricthey, well they invented a sub-cult. And Major Taylor, he inspired others by being the first African American in the sport. In short a huge percentage of these individuals were radical in the sport.

Slide 15 - Here is another different pattern. This group of individuals didn’t have cycling as their first or primary sport. 70 percent were not cyclists to begin with, but these are all great (in all senses of the word) cyclists. That is just plain super interesting.

Slide 16 - This group did more after cycling. Again a staggering patter. 70 percent did more, by some measure, in something else after the sport, that their already massive achievements in the sport. This is a crazy pattern.

Slide 17 - So lets dive into the Wright Brothers a little more; Neither of them graduated high school. Neither of them have a high school diploma! Other teams racing to be first in flight here were filled with engineers and advanced degrees, and lots and lots of funding, but these guys, inspired by their bicycle shop changed the course of human history. Lets be clear, a derivative of their work changed history.

Slide 18 - The derivative of cycling begot flight. So that’s interesting, isn’t it? What if this was a law? What if the thing that was most impressive, the thing that was most interesting, the thing with the biggest impact, wasn’t the profession, but the derivative of it?

Slide 19 - Can we establish that same principle in our own work? What if innovation isn’t the act of the thing we were focused on, but it is the derivative work. In our examination of cycling this case seems to be true. These were all greats in cycling, but it sure seems like we somehow defined great by doing something else great as well.

Slide 20 - I submit that this indeed law. That the definition of innovation is a derivative work. Something original, new and important in whatever field that breaks into a market must be by definition a derivative. How we understand this principle is critical to us actually being innovators.

Slide 21 - Innovation isn’t resting on what we have done, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t expecting the answer. It is taking something in our regular path and changing it on some scale of slightly (like clip on bars or peddles) to dramatically (making a bike into a plane) which alters the entire market. My hope is we realize the derivative (that is the change we need to make of the thing) we are working (data, back end, design, technical assistance, privacy, project management) to harness a new future. What will our innovation be?