Travis Pastrana and the future of the world economy

While not trying to be flip about such a weighty topic as the state of the macro international economy, I believe this daredevil bigwheel jump by Travis Pastrana elegantly captures some of the key elements that will help consumer-facing brands thrive over the next few years.

(No, it’s not about shooting bottle rockets at night in your underwear.  Skip ahead six seconds)

I reckon there are five in total:

  1. Optimism is the New Courage:  Travis wouldn’t attempt this mondo backflip if he wasn’t optimistic that he could land it.  Sure it’s dangerous, sure it’s risky, but he has the skill and the experience to know that he can pull it off.  That’s optimism grounded in reality.  Just as the fundamental rules of the marketplace haven’t changed in our current predicament, it’s not like Travis is facing a whole new set of laws of physics — so why not be optimistic?  His bigwheel is not his usual motorcycle (or a Subaru, even), but it has wheels and he can deal with the downsizing.  That’s optimism.
  2. Use planning to minimize the stupid risks:  even Travis is wearing a helmet for this one.  And notice that this is his third-time-charmed attempt.  Now more than ever, when the price of failing is so high, it’s a good idea to minimize secondary risks even as we embrace big leaps.  That might mean building an extra prototype, running another market test, or getting out in the field with customers more than usual.  These days your big or small leaps really need to work, so a little extra midnight oil is probably worth it.  There’s enough risk out there as it is, why not cut out all the dumb risks to better focus on the big ones?
  3. Potential Energy = Cash: Pastrana’s maneuver is all about converting potential energy in to kinetic energy.  If you’re like me, you held your breath for those scary seconds he was inverted.  But if you think through your physics, you know that 90% of the success of this jump was set up at the start; with the right amount of potential energy on tap, Travis knows that he can make the jump so long as he’s able to execute all of the routine details.  But without that energy, even the best execution won’t hack it.  Cash is the potential energy of the business world.  Without it, you can’t pull off a stunt of any size. Like Travis, you want to do anything you can to maximize your potential energy/cash.  If that means canceling your trip to the nifty event across the country, or eating rice and beans instead of steak, or riding a train instead of flying, you just have to do it.  Save and conserve your cash: you don’t want to be caught low, slow, and out of ideas.  Or money.
  4. It’s not about the flight…:  Bombing down a ramp and flying through the air is one thing, sticking the landing is quite another.  Above all, we cheer for Travis because his sheer talent allows him to nail landings like no other.  So, what’s next?  What happens when you make it through these Schumpterian flames?  If you’re successful now, will you or can you be successful when things turn up?  What’s the balance? Landings are important… where will yours take you?
  5. Dress for success:  There’s no better time than a downturn to use surface aesthetics to convey a sense of optimism, planning, and control.  The posture you and your brand take in the world will define you.  So put on your best, put your best foot forward, and let other people know that you’ve got your act together.  Hell, even Travis wears pinstripes.

Many thanks to my friend Reilly for pointing me to this video.  The weird resulting thoughts, however, are those of yours truly, and should not be blamed on him.