Fartlek for firms?

Out for one of my (very) occasional runs today, I got thinking about the training concept of fartlek

Rob De Castella Brisbane marathon mustacheFor those of you who never giggled at this term during middle-distance or cross-country training, it is Swedish for “speed play“.  It sees runners interspersing their steady runs with short, somewhat random bursts of faster-paced exertion. Like interval sessions, fartlek helps build speed endurance (i.e. the capacity to run faster for longer), but it also makes runners more capable of dealing with surges in races and more flexible in their racing strategies.

Which got me thinking about firms.  We often hear that firms should seek to be nimble, adaptive and flexible.  Much is made of the high velocity, dynamic environment in which many firms find themselves.

Might firms seek out such training? Might they benefit from sporadic increases in the speed of change around them, from surges in environmental forces such as technology, regulations, demographic tastes and preferences, and from more turbulent industry environs with new entrants, shifts in bargaining power and the like. 

Paula Radcliffe training hills BerlinSurely this would boost the firm’s agility and capacity to respond to change.

Now, remember the logic of Fartlek.  The surges should be sporadic, varied and surprising. I’m not saying that firms should seek out constantly pacy domains and markets.  Rather, firms may benefit from waves of unexpected change and their adaptation thereto.

This has some implications:

  • firms should see crises as an opportunity to harden up
  • firms might view diversification as scope to experience greater variability in change
  • firms could look at internationalisation, especially into distant (geographically, culturally, economically etc) markets as exposure to rugged landscape ripe for fartlek-type bursts and lulls
  • This conceptualisation does seem quite useful in thinking about learning and adaptation (and indeed the adaptiveness we see in the dynamic capabilities concept) of firms.


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    One Response to “Fartlek for firms?”

    1. Steve Sammartino Says:

      Excellent Analogy. I think analogies to field outside of business such as this stimulate new thinking.


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