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Updated: Mar 3, 2019

Take the Victories you can get

(Speaking Topics for Corporate Events)

Success. I had done it. I was exhilarated.

I took my Victory where I could find it. It was sweet.

In business, it’s even sweeter to feel like an organization is building win upon win, & the key thing is to note the milestones.

...and yet, it left me with a three pointed scar on my left hand as a reminder of what happens when you press your luck...

Make a goal that’s hard to accomplish… it may be groundbreaking, maybe even outrageous…it doesn’t matter… Especially if it’s a real stretch, because when you make it, it’s going to take you to the next level… so you go for it!

I have a long bucket list I hope to hit, and near the very top was to Run with the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Ever since I was a boy, I saw pictures of half-ton bulls running down the narrow streets, mowing men over who had the unbelievable temerity to run alongside them, in hopes of making the 902-meter run from the Pens to the Stadium - at precisely 8 AM on 7 consecutive warm mornings in July.

I was able to talk my 2 teen sons, plus my 16-year-old nephew, into coming with me to Pamplona for the spectacle of wine-spritzing parties, brass bands, bullfights, & of course the daily running of the bulls. Actually that feat wasn’t too hard – talking the moms into it required a bit more deft skill.

Everything you read about preparing for the Festival of San Fermin’s Running of the Bulls: when & where to enter, which door to start your run (Estafeta for first timers), & how to - please at all costs - avoid getting stuck at Dead Man’s Curve, cannot prepare you for the look of terror on grown men’s faces as 6 of God’s nastiest creatures are thundering towards you, mean and pissed off, slipping and snorting on moist morning cobblestone streets, and determined to gore anything lying their way right through the kidney. I say that because sadly that is how an American met his death the year before – it’s usually the Yanks that get hurt not having properly prepared, or worse – showing up drunk from an all-nighter – thinking, ‘gee, now that the sun has come up, wouldn’t it be a hoot to sprint alongside 4- legged devils in a confined twisty maze after 12 straight hours of boozing'?

I guess I should also mention that the speed of the bulls over the half mile run from Pens to Stadium is at 4-minute-mile pace, equal to an Olympic qualifier, so put any thoughts of outrunning the beasts from your head.

My goal was to ‘run at the horns of the bull’ for as long as I could - and get into that Stadium, because as soon as that last bull enters, the handlers with the long green whips shut those doors - and any runners who haven’t made it in yet have to go home and try again tomorrow.

What a thrilling goal to have, right? And I was so close to it now – I had made the plans, was staying in town, dressed in proper white and red with panuelo & sash, and even had my boys with me!

The 3 boys and I retired at midnight on the 2nd floor of our b&b, and closed the balcony doors on the most amazing block party happening below us – we counted 10,000 people, maybe 20,000.. when the alarm went off at 6:30am. I opened the balcony door and they were all still there – they hadn’t moved! Boy those Spaniards can party.

We dressed and headed to the coral by 7:15am in plenty of time to reach our first-timer spot on the long stretch at Estafeta, under the blue air conditioner, and 200 meters past Dead Man’s Curve. At this point of the run, I would need to cover 400 meters with the bulls to get into the Stadium. Good plan. About 1000 other people dressed exactly like me had the same plan, and although I didn’t know this yet, most of them would be tripping, stumbling, and piling-up directly in my path.

8:00 am arrived and BOOM! They fired off the morning rocket signaling the run. Somewhere a few hundred meters back, the Penkeeper opened the gates and loosed the 3 steer guides followed by the 6 bulls. The 2 older boys excitedly fidgeted near me in the street but I was so impressed at their bravery. Dustin was too young to run so I had already plopped him up on a spot on the fence right next to an ESPN camera crew. He was in good hands.

A few seconds later, watching down the street for the bulls, a terrorized wave of human men gasped & started the run and went flying by. Wait, no bulls! – this was a false wave of men who had either had enough, peed their pants, or just started running blindly to follow the herd. Dudes, seriously? You didn’t even see a bull and you’re running for your lives?

Forget it, here they came. No mistaking the sound of thunder coming straight at you – the roar amplified by the narrow streets and wall-to-wall buildings… And then there it was, the moment I had waited for my adult life.. 2 brown mid-sized steers with negligible horns guided the way, and right behind them came the enormous black bulls, with foot-long horns and red eyes.

Get out there and run, come on feet, get moving… No one had mentioned the animals would take up most of the street, and that to run ‘at the horns of the bull’ is a literal statement. I suddenly felt alive again like I was leading a night patrol in Iraq and momentarily forgot I was human – I was just another bull taking my place alongside them, triumphant and powerful. I joined the herd and ran alongside my mate – an angry 1100 lb giant. I was close enough off his right flank to see him sweating, and I didn’t take note of the intensely pungeant smell till much later, but my nose would have that smell locked in the nasal passage for hours afterward. 70 meters! I ran with alongside him and just 300 meters from the stadium he overtook me without note and kept on running into oblivion. Then came the next bull and the next 2 after him and before I knew it I was crossing the wooden planks into the Stadium to the roar of the crowd inside!

Success. I had done it. I was exhilarated.

I reveled in my success. I shared it with friends. My sons and I high-fived and realized that everything it took to get there was worth it.

I took my Victory where I could find it. It was sweet.

It’s important to do that in business as well. Take a pause and enjoy what you’ve accomplished.

Then it’s ok to try for more. I did the next day.

On Day 2 it wasn’t good enough to simply make the run. I decided to join the idiots who lay down in the path of the bull once inside the Stadium, as the crowd chants “La Vaca..La Vaca”..

Curiously enough la vaca means ‘the cow’, not ‘the bull’ .. it should mean “the idiots”.

But I survived and got the killer video I wanted. I posted it. Adulation from the masses of Facebook. I had truly arrived.

I took my next Victory because I had built it on the first win, and had boldy tried for yet more.

I paused again and enjoyed it.

In business, it’s even sweeter to feel like an organization is building win upon win, and the key thing is to note the milestones.

Take those victories as you get them and recognize your people and their accomplishments.

On Day 3 I was riding a streak that could not lose...

Today would be the day with that I would video my run alongside the bull in the streets amid the mayhem.

It’s important to note that one of the strictest and oldest rules of the Pamplona festival is absolutely no cameras and no photography (because it’s rather imperative to have all your wits about you and not be distracted by the least small detail - such as, I don’t know, say, pointing a camera at a charging bull you’re running alongside)

But with the advent of iPhone video, one can film with little distraction (if you grip the phone and point it as you’re running).

You’ll have to take my word for it that I got the best all-time video of the black beast as I bested my previous day’s effort, and ran for 90m alongside el toro.

I didn’t stop to enjoy my victory. Like a Vegas gambler on a streak , I pressed my luck to get more video of La Vaca inside the stadium…

The best all-time video inside my phone would never be seen - because on La Vaca’s 2nd run down the tunnel out into the crowd, he stumbled over what he must’ve thought was a twig or detritus, and stepped on the kneeling men in front of me and kicked the iPhone clear out of my hand, obliterating it into a hundred pieces and leaving me with a three pointed scar on my left hand as a reminder of what happens when you press your luck too much.

Day 3 was not a total loss… I got a great experience to remind me to take my victories as they come, recognize those who contributed, and publicize every incremental milestone.

That’s what I learned over 3 mornings in Spain.

..stay tuned for Reliability in Business - coming up next!


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Cpt Joe Sacchetti served 2 tours in Iraq, commanding Ranger Scouts in the 82nd Abn & earning the Bronze Star Medal.
Captain Joe Sacchetti served 2 tours in Iraq, commanding Ranger Scouts in the 82nd Abn & earning the Bronze Star Medal.

MIT's Exec Ed program in Strategy & Innovation teaches senior Business Managers to think like Leaders. me @

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