Using information to drive action
I remember how fascinated I was the first time I read Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike. I was amazed to learn how much of a team effort the sport of professional cycling really is. I had no idea of the elaborate group effort that is required for one to win the Tour de France. I thought that everyone just got on the bikes and rode like hell. If you’re not familiar with how it all works, here’s a little background …
In the Tour de France, there are teams of riders. On each team, there is a designated team leader whom the rest of the riders are responsible for protecting from others, drafting from the wind, and keeping them in the best possible position during all stages of the race. Each team has different types of riders: climbers, time trialists, sprinters, domestiques, and all-rounders. The purpose of most of these is obvious, but the domestique requires a bit of explanation.
In French, the word domestique means “servant” … and in cycling, it means exactly that. The domestique serves the team. He leads in front to push away air and allow his teammates to draft behind him and conserve energy. He goes to the support cars to pick up food and water and deliver it to his teammates. If another rider on his team has technical problems with his bike, he will even give a teammate his bike or wheel. The domestique is agile, aggressive, and actionable. But most important, the domestique is an excellent listener.
Each team has a support car that carries the team’s directors who serve as the lifeline for the team. Using two way radios, they “track the race with onboard televisions, and take mobile phone calls from other directors to arrange temporary alliances as a day’s events unfold”. Radio communication did not become a part of the Tour de France until the mid 1990′s. Over the years, radio communication has changed racing. Some say that it takes the spontaneity and delicate skill of reading a race out of the sport.
Regardless of the debate in the cycling community, there are lessons to be learned when it comes to changing behavior using personal metrics. In cycling, riders used to only have the information from their on-board bike computers. Their actions were primarily based on the information that was known about themselves. But now, team directors can interpret the information from the rider, but more importantly, bench it against information from the race group as a whole, and then provide precise actions the rider should take. Behavior change is not just about collecting information, it’s about interpreting that information and developing action plans.
Drawing parallels from the cycling world, here are 3 recommendations for to use when using information to drive action:
1. Be a part of a team
When you’re trying to change your behavior, surround yourself with a small group of people who have similar goals. Not only will they motivate you, but if you can share your metrics you create accountability amongst yourselves. It’s important to keep the team small because as groups get larger, it’s easier to stay anonymous and be less vulnerable.
2. Have an expert plan your steps
Just as a rider relies on his team director to tell him when he should sprint or how long to draft, you need someone or something to help plan your next step. These are really what I call feedback loops. Automatic feedback loops are most effective. For example, in some weight loss applications where you track food consumed and activity done, you can have the system alert you (via email or text) when you have eaten too much or exercised too little. As you measure your activity, have an expert (whether human or a computer) that helps you know what to do next.
3. Understand the effects of your actions
Having constant real time feedback is essential to reinforcing the action you take. In cycling, the riders take cues from the team director. But, they also have the on-board computer that can provide them with immediate feedback about the effects of their actions. Being able to gauge the effect of an action helps to affirm in your mind that the action was either positive or negative. This helps you learn so that someday you don’t need the expert to plan your steps because you intuitively will learn what action should be taken given certain information provided.