Lessons Learned from a Road Rally

by Christine Michaels

I was fortunate enough to be part of “Fireball Run – the Race to Recover America’s Missing Children,” which began its 7-day journey September 25 in Melbourne. The premise of Fireball is: teams get clues they must solve in an allotted time frame and, like The Amazing Race, it puts one’s wits and endurance to the test. Sometimes you will be the leader, sometimes the follower, and sometimes, literally, out in left field.

I knew there would be life lessons learned, but little did I know how many of them, or how much the same principles, could be put into use in the day-to-day business world. One of my main business takeaways was the power of alliances – it just took me several days for that lesson to become evident.

Day 1

The teams are in their vehicles, engines revving, awaiting the flare gun that will send them on their journey.

The green flag is waved – they’re off! Our team – consisting of NASCAR driver/Daytona 500 Winner Geoff Bodine and me – really worked it. We were on our home turf and knew our way around. We used our chamber staff, friends and family to help us when we needed it.

Business Lesson – When things are going well, you may not be planning ahead. Always keep your eye on the end goal.

Day 2

The teams are tired, but still pumped with adrenaline. We made it to our destination in the given timeframe, got our points, and handed out posters of our missing child. Little did we know that it got tougher once you left your home field. Other teams were from those areas and they were doing better. We called our fellow Space Coast teammates, astronaut Winston Scott and Jennifer Neuhard. Now we had familiar allies and it seemed to work ok.

Business Lesson – Never underestimate the power of home field advantage or the challenges of being the “visiting team.” Knowing the lay of the land is invaluable to achieving the goal.

Day 3

We are in Charleston, SC on our way to Peachtree City, GA. In desperation, we’re putting too much strain on the folks back home. Faced with the day-to-day “emergencies” cropping up in the office, they are struggling to meet our demands as well as keep the everyday activities rolling smoothly.

Business Lesson – Your team needs to completely understand “The Mission.” Once they know the challenges that leadership is facing, they are then able to respond to the situation.

Day 4

Peachtree City, GA to Knoxville, TN. We’ve decided to slow the pace and enjoy ourselves. Geoff and I stop at a farm supply store for a charity mission that lifts our spirits. We are falling behind and tired; the electronics we had relied on to carry us through have completely failed.

Business Lesson – Have a Plan B, a Plan C, and a plan to back up the backup plans. We were in no way equipped for the demands of the rally, and finding last-minute solutions is NOT the way to go when you’re under a deadline.

Day 5

Knoxville, TN to Clarksville, TN. We’re off to a rocky start; the celebrity cars are not keeping pace, trying to sign autographs and do media interviews is delaying us and impacting the event schedule. The families of our missing children are there to greet us with giant posters of the kids and a handwritten note for each of us thanking us for our efforts.

Business Lesson – Don’t try to separate the human aspect from what you are doing. The most rewarding thing at the end of the day is knowing you have done something good, touched a life, and that you are making a difference.

Day 6

Clarksville, TN to Anniston, AL. We have a new strategy: alliances – perhaps the most valuable lesson in the rally. The teams are finding that a whole lot of frustration can be eased if they work together.

Business Lesson – Competitors can also be allies.

Day 7

Aniston, AL to Gulfport, MS. We decide not to do the other missions to ensure that we arrive on time for staging the processional into Gulfport. The whole town is waiting for us in a burst of patriotism.

Business Lesson – Know how to prioritize. As Fireball Producer J. Sanchez says, “It’s a question of risk vs. reward.” We knew the final parade was our most important event and did not risk getting points for other, less important activities. Yes, we failed to complete some of our other assignments but for the big one that counted the most we came through!

Moral of the story: reach the finish line with your team backing you and your allies with you, do well and have some fun along the way.

Christine Michaels is the president and CEO of the Melbourne Regional Chamber of Commerce.