It's not a race, it's an ultramarathon

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Crypto adoption won’t happen overnight. And it’s going to be hard work. And hopefully fun.


It's about relentless forward progress

I’ve recently taken up long-distance running again. I’ve run for 15 years, but chronic Achilles Tendinitis had reduced weekly my mileage down to almost single figures. Running keeps me sane and on the back of a personally pretty horrible year I figured if I didn’t do something about it I wouldn’t be running into my 40s, let alone my 70s. Cue several months of physio, using barefoot running and minimalist shoes to hone my technique and making the transition to forefoot instead of heel striking, and I thought I’d formalise my return to distance running by signing up for an ultramarathon at the end of October — an 8-hour challenge event.

It’s the nature of both running and crypto that they’re addictive. They occupy your head in a way that can become borderline obsessive, discounting those times the border isn’t already disappearing into the distance behind you. You don’t have to strain too hard to find the parallels between crypto adoption and ultra-running. Here’s a few I came up with on a near-disastrous 17-mile training run last week.

It’s not the winning. It’s not the taking part either. It’s the crossing the finish line.

Marathons and particularly ultramarathons aren’t like other events. Most entrants won’t even think about winning or coming in the top 10. They might have a personal target they want to beat — 24 hours for 100 miles, 50 miles inside of 10 hours, perhaps — but a lot of the time it’s simply about completing the distance. Coming second, or 50th, isn’t what keeps them awake at night. It’s the prospect of a DNF: Did Not Finish.

Whatever the bitcoin maximalists say, there’s plenty of room for many different blockchains in the world. That’s what the landscape is going to look like to five to ten years. There won’t be one chain to rule them all. There will be dozens, maybe even hundreds or more. Decentralisation is good, after all. The question isn’t whether one project like Waves is going to be The Chain Of The Future. It’s whether it will still be there in five years time. That’s what we need to focus on: crossing the finish line, being there at the table. Being part of the change that’s happening. Real-world use cases and meaningful adoption. Anything else is a DNF. And you do not want to DNF.

Plan meticulously

You can get away with a lot even for a marathon — lack of training, ignoring blisters and minor injuries, inadequate nutrition. There’s a good chance you’ll still limp over the line. Not the case once the distance rises to the 40+ mile mark. A minor mistake near the beginning will cost you dearly.

When you’re dealing with millions of dollars of investors’ money, and creating a platform that might support many tens, hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars of assets and businesses one day, you don’t leave anything to chance. You get the right people, create the roadmap, have a vision, don’t assume you can kludge something at a later date. ‘It’ll be fine’ isn’t an option. You don’t wing it. TL;DR you plan like a BOSS.

Accept you will make mistakes

There’s no question about this. If you don’t make a mistake, you’ve probably done something wrong. Or else done nothing of any consequence at all, which is much the same.

Planning is critical but mistakes are still going to happen. If you’re going out on one of the hottest days of the year, it’s smart to take extra water with you. Otherwise you’re going to end up grinding away at a snail’s pace, badly dehydrated and, ultimately, guzzling water out of a hose pipe at a marina. (That plasticky-flavoured hose water tasted so, so good. Even better a little later when I learned it was drinking water. Bonus.)

But the mistakes don’t prove you’re unfit for the task, assuming you don’t make them again. And you learn from other people’s mistakes as well as your own. Crypto is still very young. People have never really worked like this before, in dispersed teams around the world, communicating by Skype and Slack, creating bleeding-edge tech that was impossible even a decade ago. It’s bizarre when you think about it. Of course there are going to be teething troubles. You avoid the mistakes whenever you can. When you can’t — that’s just part of getting the job done.

Be prepared to change your plan

Mistakes are a given and life has a way of throwing curve balls at you anyway. An afternoon the weather service suggested would be mild turned out to be a few degrees off sub-Saharan. Trails you assumed would be well maintained were uneven and overgrown with nettles. The peanuts you ate to replace lost salt end up sucking the remaining moisture out of your already dehydrated face, leaving your tongue with the consistency of a pork scratching. There are previously unknown issues with Scorex you have to fix before you can release stable and secure full node code. That kind of thing.

Under these circumstances, sticking to your meticulous plan and schedule isn’t just dumb, it’s suicide. You adapt, not just as a matter of performance but as a matter of survival. That might mean delaying a target on the roadmap, it might mean disappointing people — including yourself. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the alternative is the DNF.

You go out slow

Getting to the finish line in your target time isn’t something you can guarantee by upping the pace in the first ten minutes. Going out too fast isn’t banking miles for later: it’s unsustainable and it will wreck your chances of long-term success. You start slow and you up the pace later only if it’s smart. It can be frustrating to do because everyone else is going out hard and hanging back feels like you’re being lazy. But if you get the pace right you know you’re going to see those guys again as you pass them.

One of the less attractive elements of crypto are the speculators who will throw money at an ICO with scant regard for what the project is trying to achieve, and then troll your Slack and forums when they don’t get the overnight three-fold returns they somehow feel entitled to. There have been plenty of projects that have pandered to this dynamic and even colluded with it, announcing initiatives and updates in search of the ‘pump’ that is all a proportion of the crypto crowd cares about. The worst of them might be Paycoin, which did the equivalent of sprinting the first 200 metres of a 50-miler and then crashed out, hard. But there are plenty of others who flirt with publicity in a way that isn’t outright criminal but isn’t too far off. Get the pace right and you’re going to see those guys again when you pass them. And good bye.

Get your people right

Most people don’t get long-distance running, and they don’t get crypto either. They’re both something you have to experience to understand (and then you run the risk of getting hooked). You get groups of like-minded devotees in both. They tend to stick together because it’s hard to explain the appeal to others.

About 15 years ago Jim Collins wrote a fantastic piece in the Harvard Business Review about what separates merely good companies from great ones. You can read a summary here. Jim uses the bus analogy. Sure you need to know where you’re going, he writes. But ‘leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline — first the people, then the direction — no matter how dire the circumstances.’

There’s a maxim often quoted by NGOs and social enterprises, ‘People before profits’. It’s true of all businesses, ultimately, in the sense that the right people and the right relationship are a necessary condition of long-term success. More accurately, it might be stated ‘Profits because people’.

It should be fun

Lastly, this should be fun. There’s something different, iconoclastic and culturally subversive, even, about ultra-running and crypto. They’re still fringe. Maybe people don’t always get it. It doesn’t matter. It’s still worth doing for its own rewards.


This article was originally published on Medium.

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