#OneTeamGov & The 4-Minute Mile

Today I realized one of the reasons I go to the #OneTeamGov meetings every other week.

It has to do with breaking the 4-minute mile.

If you’re under 40, you may not know the story of Roger Bannister, who, on May 6, 1954, broke through the four-minute barrier with a time of three minutes, fifty-nine and four-tenths of a second. 

Runners had been chasing the goal seriously since at least 1886, and the challenge involved the most brilliant coaches and gifted athletes in North America, Europe, and Australia.   British journalist and runner himself John Bryant wrote that “For years milers had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them,” he notes. “It had become as much a psychological barrier as a physical one. And like an unconquerable mountain, the closer it was approached, the more daunting it seemed.”

This was truly the Holy Grail of athletic achievement. It’s fascinating to read about the pressure, the crowds, the media swirl as runners tried in vain to break the mark. 

When the record was broken, it defied the confident predictions of the best minds in the sport. The experts believed they knew the precise conditions under which the mark would fall. It would have to be in perfect weather — 68 degrees and no wind. On a particular kind of track — hard, dry clay — and in front of a huge, boisterous crowd urging the runner on to his best-ever performance. But Bannister did it on a cold day, on a wet track, at a small meet in Oxford, England, before a crowd of just a few thousand people.

At last, somebody did it! And once they saw it could be done, they did it too. Just 46 days after Bannister’s feat, John Landy, an Australian runner, not only broke the barrier again, with a time of 3 minutes 58 seconds. Then, just a year later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last half century, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered hopelessly out of reach.

I’ve always thought that what goes for runners goes for organizations too. In business, progress does not move in straight lines. Whether it’s an executive, an entrepreneur, or a technologist, some innovator changes the game, and that which was thought to be unreachable becomes a benchmark, something for others to shoot for. 

Which brings me back to OneTeamGov meetups.

The community is made up of people who are passionate about public sector reform.  We believe the public sector can be brilliant, and we’re committed to making it so. Importantly, it is wider than just government employees, which is why I’m welcome there.  (Even as a former public servant I’m not permitted in certain clubs). As the mission says: “We need diverse perspectives, with people of all sectors, areas, and interests helping. We think we’re unstoppable if we work together.”  You can learn more about the principles here.

The principles will sound familiar to many people.

To me, what distinguishes the OneTeamGov meetings is how practical they are.  People arrive with a general sense of what they want to be doing at work, but with an unease about how they’ll get there.  It is as though they have a 4-minute mile barrier at work that seems unbreakable. Until they hear from someone else who has already done it.  

And if they can break the barriers, so can you.

Everyone is welcome to come by.  We meet every other Wednesday at the National Arts Centre, next to Glenn Gould’s piano. There’s also a virtual meeting you can attend.  For more information, follow @OneTeamGovCan on Twitter, or contact me for more details. Hope to see you there.

 

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