• Leila Ainge

Whose Lane Is It Anyway?

Have you ever watched American Football? My brother was given a New York Giants top when we were kids, it piqued his interest because the NFL show aired on Sunday afternoons on Channel 4, (how did we live with only 4 channels?). I became used to hearing the commentary and strategies, and I knew that the players had to move the ball forward, using running lanes as routes to touchdown.

Why am I telling you about American football? the chances are you’ve heard the phrase ‘Stay in your lane’ it’s a ubiquitous term that can be applied to driving, swimming, horse racing and business, but I find it problematic and here’s why.

The power of ‘staying in your lane’ makes perfect psychological sense in football. It’s a simple strategy that combines a visualisation (the lane), a practiced move and focus. It works because the visual is familiar and the practice lends itself to an effortless and automatic move.

Off the pitch, ‘Stay in your lane’ is used as an admonishment, the obvious target being women – take the case of CEO LaVar Ball, he used it against a female sports anchor on Fox News as a way to silence her. The phrase is also passed around as advice by women in the business community. ‘Don’t worry what the competition is doing, stay in your own lane!’

But is it helpful to stay in your lane when profit is at stake?

The reason this strategy works in American Football is that combination of fixed rules, a strong visual, practice and focus creates an automatic response. But how often in business do conditions stay the same? The recent Instagram and Facebook outage reminded us that things do change unexpectedly and when we master something in our lane it doesn’t mean we can rely on it being there forever.

For entrepreneurs I feel like there is real purpose in straying. When you launch a business, you do lots of things for the first time. You don’t always have the time or the funds to practice your moves or perfect your product or service before you launch. It makes sense to learn and work with the competition.

When I think about ‘Staying in your lane’ I imagine a neon billboard announcement telling me to avoid being distracted, I am distracted on a regular basis and this superpower shows up as critical thinking and an almost insatiable curiosity. So, here’s my advice. Stay in the lane when practice and focus is required, but if you are stuck worrying about the competition then stray with purpose and curiosity, why is it bothering you? What is this telling you?, and what can you learn?

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