Would you have thought you could learn business lessons from riding a motorcycle? As an attendee to the Inc. Magazine Leadership Conference in San Diego this past week I was invited to participate in a motorcycle ride with other CEO’s at the conference. Who could pass that up? The fact that I have not been on a motorcycle in over 15 years or had never ridden a large Harley Davidson in my life was no reason to turn down such an invitation, right?

To prepare to ride with “experienced rider” CEO’s I thought it wise to rent a Harley a couple of weeks prior to the event. It is a good thing I did. I made a few mistakes not repeated on the big ride with the others. The San Diego ride went well although challenging for even the experienced riders due to the sharp turns on the narrow canyon road going up and down the mountain. The very good news is that we all (20 or so) made it back safely with no mishaps. It was one of my greatest experiences.

During the ride I recognized some direct parallels between motorcycle riding and entrepreneurship. Here is what I saw:

Riding the big Harley on the open road at high speed is exciting with an air of freedom. For me, it was like “King of the Road”. It is a similar feeling one gets when running a business!

Running a business is not an easy ride to be sure but the challenge and struggles every business owner experiences from time to time are worth the fight.

Heightened Awareness
Riding a motorcycle can be dangerous with a high degree of vulnerability. Every road sign has new meaning, every bump in the pavement, every road hazard and every car around you has the potential for catastrophe. It is vital to stay focused every mile; it is the same with running a successful business.

Shortly after Edoc began business16 years ago I was trying to help a prospective client develop a brochure. He was so concerned with the project (he was obsessed over the color) he even interrupted a meeting with his top staff when I arrived at their plush office. I soon realized that the job was over my head and turned it over to a printer friend to work with him; I stepped away. A few weeks later, the day the printed brochures were delivered to his company my printer friend received a Chapter 7 bankruptcy notice from his attorney. Can you imagine worrying about the color on a stupid brochure when your company is going down?

Just like the motorcycle ride, lack of awareness and focus can be perilous.

Safety is Paramount
On the motorcycle your life is at stake; in your company the business is on the line.

Not putting the company at risk is one of the Edoc Service core principles. We live in a world of sharks and predators. Over the years we have walked away from opportunities that could have caused us harm. This principle is engrained well enough in our culture that whenever I get close to crossing that line, my staff are quick to remind me of it.

Rapid Acceleration
Motorcycles can move from a complete stop to very high speeds in seconds. The right product or service with the right team can go viral providing rapid growth. Just look at the Inc. 500 companies.

The beauty of running a virtual enterprise such as our Edoc Office division or Edoc Scribe division is the ability for a quick ramp-up in staff. We had to quickly increase our transcription staff from 17 to 30 and then from 30-60. I simply cannot see how we could have accomplished this as fast in a “brick-and-mortar” environment.

Slow Turns are Difficult and Possibly Lethal
The motorcycle requires you to accelerate slightly during turns and to lean. It is very difficult to keep your balance at slow speeds and turning too slow could cause the machine to fall over.

The business environment is such today that we must continue to move forward at a very steady pace. If we move too slowly our competitors will run over us. Accelerating a little in the turns helps to keep the company upright. Yes, we have to implement new offerings with best practices but to get too hung up on analysis before the launch could cause a miss in the opportunity window.

Preparation is Required
The advance practice allowed me to become comfortable with the machine thus enabling me to focus on the road in difficult terrain. Without that preparation, the ride would have been terrifying. We simply cannot expect to succeed in business without on-going planning and strategy. We have to look down that road ahead. What are the potential hazards, what can go wrong? We are unlikely to get everything right, but to launch without foresight and planning is foolish at best and could result in failure at worst.

Are you ready for the ride?