I openly admit it: These days, I usually run against the crowd. And I love it. Here is why and what you can learn from this.
My against-the-crowd running started sometime after I became a competitive middle-distance runner. In a track race, all contestants run laps counterclockwise around the stadium. Naturally, when doing interval training and speed practice on the track 2-3 times a week, all runners follow this directional convention, too.
But during one peak season, when I felt the many races and the regular interval laps on the track taking their toll on my legs, I had an idea. Why not run my interval laps (such as ten times 400m in 64 seconds with 1-minute breaks) clockwise? This directional reversal could possibly alleviate the left-sided muscle stiffness and tension in my legs from the usual counterclockwise races and training laps.
I experimented with this change, and indeed it worked. Putting in an occasional session of running against the flow helped ease the strains in my left leg and allowed me to complete my interval series better and faster than expected.
However, I quickly realized that my running against the flow disturbed some club mates, who practiced in line with the set direction on the track and regarded me as a “ghost runner.” So, I decided that whenever my legs needed the directional change, I performed my speedy, clockwise interval training on an empty track an hour before everyone else arrived for training. That was the beginning of my appreciation for running against the flow.
Why do I still do it nowadays, many years after retiring from track racing?
If you run in a park in an urban metropolis, you will notice that, inevitably, everyone runs their rounds following the crowd counterclockwise. So it seems that the directional movement on a track is so deeply ingrained in people’s minds that all hobby runners conventionally also follow it when running their rounds in a park. Well, that is, everyone but me. But why? Here are my three main reasons.
1. Taming my ego.
Having been a competitive runner on a reasonably high level for many years has had a lasting effect on my mind. I am a competitive person in sports and business. However, after I realized my natural talent for creativity and embarked on a creative career, I also realized that being super-competitive goes against the spirit of creativity. At heart, competition is based on a win-lose paradigm (“I win, you and all other runners lose”), which feeds your ego, the arch-enemy of your ingenuity. In contrast, creativity ideally works more on the win-win-win paradigm (“I win, you win, and the greater good wins, too”) and thus is cooperative or at least co-opetive (which is a mix of cooperative and friendly competitive behavior).
So soon after I embarked on my new career as a creativity coach and innovation expert almost two decades ago, I realized that I needed to tame my super-competitiveness and rein in my ego. But guess what? Whenever I ran with the crowd (= counterclockwise) in the park and another runner passed me, my ego raised its destructive voice: “Come on. You cannot possibly allow someone like that to overtake you.” And although I intended to go on a relaxing, enjoyable run, I began racing with this other runner until he gave up.
Realizing how damaging this self-indulgence of my competitive ego-driven mind was to my efforts to evolve into a world-class creativity coach, I recalled my earlier idea as a competitive track runner. If I ran clockwise against the flow, I wouldn’t be tempted to engage in races again with other runners. And so I began running against the crowd in a park.
2. Gaining a more exciting perspective.
What do you see if you run with the crowd? Butts. Lots of them. It seems that most runners enjoy this butt perspective while following the herd. True, in the sea of buttocks that one looks at while running with the crowd in a park, there is the occasional derrière that’s worth the sight. Yet, I confess that I am not a butt aficionado.
I enjoy looking at people’s faces and bodies more from the front. So, running against the crowd offers me a more enjoyable, attractive, and aesthetically beautiful perspective. And it gives me a more significant opportunity to connect with and study the people I pass. I will explain this in the next point.
3. Gaining a chance to study and profile people.
Believe it or not, running against the crowd in the park gives me a chance to figure out what’s going on in the minds of the people who walk, run, or cycle toward me. Doing this over the years even allowed me to pinpoint the likely cognitive styles and base orientation of people I encounter during my runs based on how they respond to my running against the flow. Let me explain this aspect with the help of Thinkergy’s talent & innovator profiling system TIPS and its four base orientations (theories, ideas, people, and systems) that energize people’s actions:
Some runners, cyclists, and pedestrians openly acknowledge me with a friendly, happy nod or smile. They are likely one of the interpersonal TIPS profiles operating on People-energy.
A few people moving toward me avoid my glance or are so deep in their thoughts and disconnected from the world that they fail to notice me running against the crowd. These deep thinkers are likely to be Theories-oriented people.
Other more dynamic runners are looking at me openly and curiously, at times seeming to compare my —nowadays not very high anymore— competitive abilities with theirs. They are likely to identify as one of the Ideas-driven profiles in TIPS.
Finally, some runners, cyclists, and pedestrians get angry that I run in the wrong direction and “break the rules.” Such psycho-static, rule-abiding, rigid, and closed-minded people likely belong to the Systems-base in TIPS.
Am I always confident in the correctness of my on-the-run profiling of people? Of course not. But I am pretty sure I can identify extreme cases well. For example, one elderly American cyclist I encountered on my run some time ago got extremely agitated about me running against the stream. When we passed each other again half a lap later, he began cursing me for “running the wrong way.” Undoubtedly, he would profile as a Systematizer in TIPS if he took the test. Likewise, one runner who greets me with a friendly nod and hand-waving each time we meet is almost certainly a highly people-oriented Partner profile.
Conclusion: Dare to run (swim/go) against the stream for more exciting experiences
Of course, running against the crowd is not only an unusual activity but also a metaphor for living life as a bold, daring creative who shrugs off nonsensical rules and conventions and despises herd behavior and thinking. After all, doing the unusual offers fresh, unique perspectives and new opportunities to connect and make sense of the world. And it can provide you with inspiration for conceiving unusual ideas. When will you embark on your first run against the crowd?
Taming the destructive influence of one’s ego is one of the ten mindsets we teach aspiring creative leaders in our training courses on Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership method.
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