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Comment: Never say never

In November 2013, I ran my last marathon.

Not only do I not enjoy running, as readers of my blogs will know, but this was by far the most difficult, and longest (timewise) I had run. Something like 30 km straight up, and 10 km straight down. Starting in the low single-figures centigrade, but finishing in Athens with a twisted ankle in a punishing 28oC, more than five hours later. I thought then, and for the months and years afterwards, ‘That was my last marathon’.

Well, for a lot longer – well over 20 years – I’ve thought the adage ‘Never say never’ is one I should adhere to.

So, it should not surprise those who know me, that I have decided to attempt another marathon. Not only to prove to myself that I still can – which is important to me – but also to get me fit. I need goals which I feel are on the verge of being unobtainable, aiming high to keep me motivated to be able to achieve them.

As I write this, I have applied and paid the entry fee for November’s Verona Marathon in Italy. Although I suspect the temperature at the start will be similar to my marathon to Athens run, I hope the finish will be nothing like as hot.

The Original Marathon should not be my last one. There’s that ‘Never say never’ again. And it’s as relevant in business as it is to life in general.  While it’s perfectly true that some things genuinely will ‘never’ happen, remember people once believed we’d ‘never’ reach the Moon. As Michael Jordan has it: ‘Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion’.

You only need to reflect on what happened in politics last year to see quite how far those illusions can spread ­– how many ‘pundits’ confidently stated Donald J Trump could NEVER be selected as the Republican Party’s candidate, let alone elected as President? How many were similarly certain that the British public would NEVER vote to leave the EU?

But there’s a difference between those things that will ‘never happen’ because they’re seemingly impossible, and those that you’ve decided you’ll ‘never do’.  Teamwork can challenge both.  I will always discourage my colleagues from discounting what seems incredible, just because they think it will never happen or can’t see how they can achieve it.  Something you never thought possible or likely on your own, can become so when you draw on others.  Invest most in planning for the likely events for sure, but anticipate all other options and outcomes and how others might help address or achieve them with you.  Don’t rule things out, and challenge ‘that will never happen’ when you hear it.  Is there a real, albeit unlikely, possibility that it might? Consider it possible instead, and how you might all benefit from it by working together. Never say never in business, because it’s not only about you.

For, if all potential options one can foresee have been considered, then the unforeseen when they occur, and they will, are easier to deal with too.

So, I now question whether the Verona marathon will be my last.  And while I still cannot imagine that I will ever, for example, fly to the Moon, I do share Elon Musk’s take on possibility – ‘When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favour’. 

I promise I won’t bore you in future months by complaining about the training I will need, to get ready for the Verona jog.  But I can’t promise I won’t ever refer to it anywhere. Never say never!

By Graeme Gordon, executive director, Praxity

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