Parkour is to entrepreneurs as golf is to (some) corporate executives.
(Previously posted at Forbes.)
In the past few years, I’ve taught myself some of the basics of parkour, which is effectively skateboarding without the skateboard. The goal is to navigate your environment as quickly and efficiently as possible. The New York Times describes it outdoor gymnastics. To see the sport in action, check out the famous video from the movie Banlieue B13, embedded above.
I like parkour for three reasons:
First, parkour is the world’s most convenient sport. It requires no special clothing, equipment, setup, location, or even teammates. Given I have a lot of responsibilities to both my firm and my family, that time flexibility is very attractive. It allows me to play parkour with my kids, who mostly haven’t attained the level of maturity necessary to understand and enjoy a rules-bound sport. They call it “tag,” but I call it climbing around the jungle gym. Running around the playground puts us all on same playing field – literally. ff Venture Capital built our “fitness office” precisely because we want to make staying fit as convenient as possible for our employees and founders.
Second, I like parkour because it’s an entrepreneurial opportunity. As a sport, parkour is (like the companies we invest in) still in its infancy. As the sport grows, apparel companies, event organizers, celebrities, and others will ride the parkour wave to build healthy businesses. Parkour gives me exposure to a new, emerging trend–what I look for in my job every day. We don’t invest in sport/lifestyle brands, but if we did, we’d be looking for the person who is going to be the Tony Hawk of parkour.
Third, parkour is a highly utilitarian sport, which is the way entrepreneurs think. The whole point of parkour is to take advantage of your environment and navigate in the most effective and graceful way possible. David Belle, a founder (some say the founder) of parkour, says:
“…parkour is a practical art form. Its sole purpose is to prepare the mind and body to overcome any obstacle no matter what the circumstance. It’s about survival. It’s about finding an escape. It comes from our most basic, natural instinct to live. And when one is in that frame of mind, there is little room for anything else….Like a monkey or a puma going over a river, we say “it’s beautiful,” but the monkey is thinking, “Man, I really need to get away from this puma.” And the puma is thinking, “Does this monkey really think it can get away from me?”
Traceurs (parkour practitioners) are limited only by their imagination and ability. Ryan Doyle, a prominent traceur, describes his philosophy as follows: “Parkour, to me, is expressing yourself through movements. It’s not such a bad thing to fall, because it’s not a bad thing to progress. You are achieving goals every single day. You connect the dots, and you find the quickest way to solve the problem.”
Soccer, basketball, and other conventional sports teach you to play the game, to operate within an existing set of rules. This can be valuable experience and, indeed, one study found that 78.3% of senior executives competed on high school athletic teams. By contrast, attempts to descriptively profile entrepreneurs indicate that they naturally have a greater affinity for open, individual endeavors (reading, biking, running, musical instruments, parkour, etc.) over team sports. Parkour’s philosophy mirrors the advice we offer entrepreneurs: don’t move into a crowded space with defined rules. Instead, define your own niche, identify the right metrics for your company, and work to excel along those metrics.
My colleague Ryan Armbrust, a former Columbia University varsity football player, observed that while most football players and coaches attempt success by executing perfectly within the system, the greats are often those who take a disruptive approach, daring to push the boundaries. In football, this might be different play calling (Bill Walsh and the West Coast Offense) or traits of individual position players (Lawrence Taylor, the Tampa 2 Defense).
Though it may be an individual sport, parkour is neither a solitary activity nor a zero-sum game. To the contrary, serious traceurs work collaboratively to help one another hit their own goals in much the same way that entrepreneurs do.