In this second article from a three-part series on Agile transformation, I take you through a history lesson on changing your beliefs. Open your mind to new experiences and journeys, and embrace change.
Cliff Young was an Australian potato farmer who lived in the Victorian countryside with about 2,000 sheep.
Every year, during the height of the shearing season, Young would spend days on end without rest, wearing gumboots and rounding up sheep, until every ram and ewe was shorn.
At around the same time, Australians devised what would become one of the most insane endurance feats in the world: the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon. At a distance of 875 kilometres, the race was run between what were then Australia's two largest Westfield shopping centres, Parramatta in Sydney and Doncaster in Melbourne.
And so it was that Cliff Young, the sheep farmer from Beech Forest, came to write his name into sporting folklore. At the age of 61, he entered the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon, without experience, or training, or formal sponsors, an amateur against professional athletes. And won. But how?
As the gun sounded, the runners took off, and old Cliff Young was left in the dust. He started at a slow, grinding pace, as you do when you’re not built to run, falling further and further behind as all the sponsored athletes disappeared into the horizon.
The conventional strategy of how to approach a race of this magnitude was called 18-6; 18 hours of running followed by six hours’ sleep. Rinse and repeat until you finish the race. It was tested and proven, and therefore widely used by those in the know. Wherever they were on the road, after 18 hours, the professionals would stop, lay down, and sleep. For six hours.
No-one told Cliff Young about 18-6. Over the course of the first night, the laggard farmer started ambling past sleeping runners scattered along a winding road in southern New South Wales. By the next morning, he was in the lead. They woke, not realising what had happened, but by then it was too late.
Young finished the race in five days and 15 hours, breaking the record for any previous run between Sydney and Melbourne by more than two days, beating the second-place professional athlete by 10 hours.
Although he had no training or experience, he also had none of the athletes’ limiting beliefs. Everyone else believed you had to sleep; you had to stop and rest, or else you couldn’t do it, you couldn’t finish. Cliff Young just ran and ran, without rest, at his own pace, and won. He claimed afterwards that during the race, he imagined that he was running after sheep and trying to outrun a storm.
When was the last time you took stock of your own limiting beliefs, as an individual or organisation? Have you ever considered the possibility they might not be true, or worse , are actually holding you back from your goals?
‘Well, we’ve always done it that way,’ is one of the most dangerous sentiments in any business. It could be the very belief that has to change before your business can take the next step.
An Agile transformation is not like a product you buy off the shelf and install in your business. It’s a long, sometimes rigorous journey, often fraught with unexpected challenges and constantly changing landscapes. In this three-part series, DVT’s Agile evangelist Stephen de Villiers Graaff explores three definitive facets of the Agile mindset, told vividly though unique and colourful stories from contemporary history.