The race is on.
All around me, the others are starting to move in the same direction. What had at first been inconspicuous steps has turned into a determined run.
Instinctively, I join in.
I scan the crowd. “Conway!” I shout.
“Sir!” Her familiar blond mane pops up.
“Do the works!"
“Yes, Sir!” She disappears into the crowd.
For a moment she is gone. I concentrate on the running. Keep pace with the others.
After a while she appears next to me.
For a long time I have been waiting for this.
“You see that oak tree we are heading towards, Sir?"
“What about it?"
“Well, Sir, analysis shows that those who pass it on the right get a bit further ahead in the race than those who go to the left."
“The right it is, then!"
As we pass the tree, I can see that we have gained quite a bit on those who come round on the left.
“Keep searching if you can find some more."
She goes off again.
I concentrate on the rhythm of my steps. Don’t breathe too heavily, but not too lightly either.
Suddenly I see a big commotion ahead. A whole group of the others have fallen, and the rest are bumping into them.
“Conway, quick, how can we manage?!"
She’s at my side in a second. “A pile-up, Sir. But I’ve seen a path next to it. Only no-one takes it, because you’ve got to step on the low branches, not on the marsh between them. As soon as you pass the red twig, you step left-left. Right-right-left-right right. Bam-bam. Bum bam badam bam, you know, like the Stones’ Brown Sugar."
“Roger that. Here it comes, then. Three, two, one - NOW!"
Bam-bam, bum bam badam bam. In a jiffy we pass the rest of the field.
“Yess! I knew we could make it!” I shout, “I should make this our campaign song. Now get me a benchmark on the top group!”
If we beat them at the big jump, victory is ours.
Conway separates from us, taking a higher road that gives her a clear view right to the front group. After a while she comes down and joins us again.
“The top group is actually not faster than we are, Sir. They just got off quicker at the start. If we accelerate by 5%, we should catch up with them in a minute."
“Can we manage the effort?"
“Some of them are breathing heavily. We can kick in harder, Sir. It’s not far to the jump now."
“What’s the best practice?"
“Well, the ones that keep their heads down look faster, but they stumble and bump into each other more often than the others, and in the long run they lose ground."
“Let’s go for it, then, and keep our heads up!"
Sometimes it pays off to use the evidence-based approach. Need to promote her one day.
Sweat is getting into my eyes. I wipe it off. Don’t lose concentration.
Slowly, we are closing in on the top group. Too slowly, it seems. I curse the days when I ate so much.
Conway is at my side again. “The jump is just around the corner, Sir, but it’s going to be close. I’ve seen the terrain from a distance. When the big leap comes, if you jump off that low branch on the right instead of the ground, you should get a final thrust that hurls you past them.
I can feel my legs ache. But it’s all or nothing now. I grit my teeth.
We round the corner, almost even with the top group. There it is - the jump! The top group seems to be taken aback a bit - just that moment of surprise to get us past them.
Never lack determination.
We jump off the branch, just as Conway predicted. We’re the first in the air!
The wind is tearing at our faces as we accelerate.
“Don't worry, Sir. They can't catch up."
I look back up at the others, who just now jump over the cliff, and follow me in the dive. A sudden glow of confidence makes me smile.
There’s nothing like winning.
This reminds me of when Conway told me that in the old days, the point of the race was to get a place on one of those benches at the top of the cliff, to watch the sunset. The lemming who won the race would mark the bench he wanted to sit on. Apparently that’s why it’s called benchmark.
I wonder why it changed?
I wonder what happens when we hit the ground?
(Originally published in www.theleadersfairytales.com)