Think Big!

(Just to give you some context before you begin reading this article, I’ve competed in triathlons and enjoy watching the Tour de France – the biggest professional cycling race of the year.  As such, I follow several members of the cycling and triathlon communities on twitter which is where I found the following story.)

Think big for a minute.

If you could participate with any organization, team or community what would you do?

Think even bigger.

sb65389What’s your dream; your pie-in-the-sky experience; your once-in-a-lifetime, wow-that-was-cool experience; your so-big-it’s-almost-funny-because-it-will-never-happen experience?

The Fat Cyclist (“wow, my dream could be real”) Experience

On December 3, 2009 Elden Nelson, a.k.a. the Fat Cyclist, ‘applied’ to be a professional cyclist by writing a tongue in cheek cover letter to Johan Bruyneel, Sports Director for Team RadioShack – the newly formed professional cycling team co-founded by Lance Armstrong, the seven-time winner of the Tour de France.

The next day, Bruyneel told Nelson “you’re hired, but there’s a catch”-  you have to raise some money for charity first.

Here is the quick synopsis, quoted from

  1. Last Thursday (12/3/09) I wrote a blog post in the form of a resume cover letter to Johan Bruyneel, Director of the newly-formed Team RadioShack.
  2. On Friday (12/4/09), Johan replied, saying I could be on the team for a day if we raised $20,000: $10K for LiveStrong, and $10K for the World Bicycle Relief Fund. If we raised $50K — $25K for each cause — he’d also give me a Trek Madone.
  3. I started scrambling, figuring out how I could possibly raise that much money in under a week.
  4. On Sunday (12/6/09), I posted my response: a contest where you can win the Madone, signed by Team RadioShack, by donating to the World Bicycle Relief Fund; or where you can win a custom-painted Fat Cyclist Gary Fisher Superfly by donating to LiveStrong.
  5. Yesterday (12/7/09) — within 24 hours of when I posted my contest — we hit not only the $20K mark, but the $50K mark as well. In other words, in less than one day after the contest began, you hit the stretch goal Johan set for us for the week.
  6. Johan began scrambling, looking for a new stretch goal.
  7. Last night (12/7/09), Johan posted a new goal, with a new prize, on his blog.

That new goal is to double the original stretch goal: raise $100,000 for these two causes by this Friday (12/11/09) at noon.

And if we do? In addition to the prizes that will already be given away — the signed Trek Madone and the personalized, custom-painted Superfly — Trek Travel will donate one 2010 Paris Finishing Package (along with airfare) to witness the finale of the Tour de France.

Bottom line?  Fat Cyclist and his community raised $133,245.05 in five days and he rode with Team RadioShack this past Sunday, December 13.

sb547920You can read the details and exchanges on Fat Cyclist’s and Johan Bruyneel’s blogs.  You can also piece together some of the give and take and friendly banter by checking the twitter feeds for @fatcyclist, @johanbruyneel, @teamradioshack and @lancearmstrong.  Many have links to photo and video responses.

So what can you take from the events of the past two weeks?  Some of the takeaways for me are:

Take Action on Your Ideas

Everyone thinks big.  Not everyone takes action. Get your ideas out there and ask people to help you build and develop them. This story highlights what happens when you pursue your ideas. Did the Fat Cyclist think he was actually going to ride with Team RadioShack at their camp?  Absolutely not. He was surprised to even get a response from Johan Bruyneel.  His idea became a possibility because he put it on the table giving Bruyneel an opportunity to respond and develop the idea beyond anything originally imaginable.

Be Open to New Ideas…Even the Crazy Ones.

When crazy ideas are presented to you, don’t be so quick to dismiss them offhand.  Instead, take a moment to see what opportunity might lie under the surface. Bruyneel had enough of a sense of humor to recognize the tongue in cheek nature of Fat Cyclist’s ‘application’ and the vision to see an opportunity that appealed to both Team RadioShack’s co-sponsor, LIVESTRONG, and Fat Cyclist’s personal story.  By looking beyond the absurdity of an amateur cyclist riding with the top professional team in the world, Bruyneel built good will with the cycling community (in particular Fat Cyclist’s community), and opened the door for two charities to receive over $130,000 in donations in less than a week.

Learn and Use the Language of your Community

sb733Every community has its own language.  As you develop your brand presence, learn and use your community’s unique language as you interact with others to enhance your credibility within the community. Fat Cyclist, even as a Product Manager by day, built credibility within the cycling community through his blog.  He spoke the cycling language and understood the greater community enough so that, despite him not being a world class cyclist, he could hold his own during the community’s conversations.  With no cycling knowledge or experience, Fat Cyclist’s ‘application’ probably would never have received a response.

Personally Engage your Community

When you personally engage your community, they will become invested in your success because it can become their success too. As you read Fat Cyclist’s blog (or even just the letter to Bruyneel) you will gain a sense of his self-deprecating humor that humanizes and works well for him.  While that type of humor may not work for everyone, you need to do something to make yourself approachable in your community.  Fat Cyclist engaged his blog community by sharing his cycling passion and personal information, never taking himself too seriously and always having fun.  As the last two weeks progressed, he engaged his community by providing incentives for their involvement (bike, jersey and trip giveaways) and asking them what they wanted from the experience while he was at camp, effectively letting them ride with him.

Now it’s your turn.  Go think big, take action, be open to new ideas, use your community’s language and engage.

What do you think?  Make it a good day.


Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@MikeSevery).

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2 Responses to “Think Big!”

  1. avatar Mike Severy says:

    Fat Cyclist’s first follow up about the weekend with Team RadioShack.

  2. avatar Tessica says:

    And I thought I was the sensible one. Thanks for setting me satirhgt.

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