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What has Parkrun taught me about change and innovation

What has Parkrun taught me about change and innovation

Last year I used the Couch to 5k App to take me from literally not being able to run, to being able to run for 30 minutes continuous. I really started to love running as a great form of exercise, time out and stress relief. Earlier this year following on from my discovery of running, I started to go to my local Parkrun at Heaton Park with my husband Toby. Whilst running the 5km course on Saturday I started to think about what Parkrun had taught me about the innovation, change and the collaboration work that I do. Here is what I came up with.

On Saturday when this blog was forming in my head and I had just passed the 4km mark (after going up what is affectionately called angina hill, after 4 weeks off running, so I really was red and out of breath), this lovely kind man called Peter came up alongside me. Out of nowhere he appeared and started to run with me (he had already finished his race) and he helped me learn in the last km how to breath, use the hills to recover and push myself. It struck me how kind this was and how it helped me and gave him a sense of giving and achievement. It felt important to share and is so representative of the Parkrun spirit I have seen.

So, Parkrun, what has it taught me, the themes below sum it up really and just like when we are running our 5km on a Saturday morning at 9am, when we are working to innovate, bring about change and collaborate all of these feel fitting to me.

It’s not about competing it’s about taking part and a sense of achievement

So often I observe people competing against each other rather than focusing on achieving the things that are important to them. I see people stop or struggle and burnout because they have gone to fast at the start and can’t keep going. In Parkrun, I have learnt that it is not about me trying to compete with anyone but each week just feel like I am getting better and stronger. It’s not even about speed for me, it’s about feeling better when I finish. When working to bring about change and innovation it’s so important to focus on where you are heading and not to concentrate on what everyone else is doing. This will only waste energy and lead to feelings of frustration and failure. This quote is so appropriate here “my only competition is my potential” I am not sure who said it but I so love it.

It’s good to look up and around you at everyone else now and again to help to motivate

Building on the last point I genuine believe focusing on your own goal and achievement is essential. However, it is also important to look up and see what is around you. Not to compete with what is around you but to admire the achievements of others, to notice when someone else might need your help and to see the different approaches and techniques that people are using. Some people run with friends, some with headphones and others with their pets and children. None of these are wrong and none of them are right and they all work for the individuals. This is the same with change and innovation, there is no wrong or right way and it is good to look around and see what others are doing to be able to learn but let’s not try and be them. Let’s all be ourselves and achieve change and innovate in our own way.

Having someone who is a marker for you is great and the faster they go the more it spurs you on too

When looking up and around sometimes someone catches your eye when running. This might be someone with snazzy running gear on, a mother and daughter having a lovely time together or someone that has been beside you from the start. These people are important as markers for us. When I say markers, I mean people we can check in on now and again to see where they are and work to keep them in sight. We don’t want these to slow down to stay in our sight though, we want them to be the best they can be and if we can stay up with them and work with their energy and success all the better. This is no different with change and innovation. There may be someone who you see doing great work and they are a few steps ahead, are you able to connect with them and work with the energy and the momentum they have created. This is not about copying them. And it is so important if you utilise their ideas and work, to remember it is important to acknowledge this. Just like I acknowledged when Peter helped me.

There will always be an elite group up front who are head of the crowd that we can learn from but shouldn’t try to be

Well I first experienced this in action at Parkrun on week one, when the lead runners lapped me and Toby when we had just passed the 1km mark. At first, I thought oh my goodness how slow am I, then I thought Claire you could not run at all last year and you are running your first 5km, what are you going on about, these people do this professionally. This then got me thinking about how this applied across to my work. We have the elite front runners in the world of change and innovation in public services, people like Helen Bevan, from NHS Horizons and Paul Taylor from Bromford Lab. These people play a crucial role to inspire, push the boundaries and keep us moving forward and stretching ourselves. However, trying to be them is not a good strategy for everyone. Some people will be the next Helen or Paul and that is great but let’s be honest most people will not be in this camp. Let’s support those that can be in this group though, praise their work, share in their successes, and learn from them. If you are in this group then it’s your duty to share our expertise, experience and networks to enable others to succeed to their potential (whatever level that might be). The elite group can help us all achieve more if we accept them for what they are and what they can offer us.

Those with the experience share generously to help everyone to succeed

I have already talked about the elite sharing their experience to help others and there is a much broader group of people that are able to do this too. The massive group of people who finish in the middle together, those who have done 200 Parkruns, those that have finished last and are now in the middle and those that have had an injury and kept coming back to get back on track. There is such a sense of sharing, just like what Peter did for me. He saw me looking very red and out of breath and came and shared his know how and came alongside me until the end. When we are bringing about change and innovating we need to generously share what we have and what we know as this will enable everyone to get further and give those that are sharing a real sense of achievement and purpose.

There is a shared sense of community and achievement

The one overarching thing that stands out for me about Parkrun is the sense of community and shared achievement. It doesn’t matter if you are first or 700th you are equally welcomed, cheered on, and celebrated. We need to take this ethos through to change and innovation work. The first early adopters are key but the later adopters are also really important and we so often say things like ‘they are years behind and they didn’t want to do that when we suggested it years ago’. We need to accept that not everyone is going to change and innovate fast and it would be chaos if this was the case. Lets’ embrace the Parkrun spirit and celebrate everyone that tries, takes small steps, and makes a difference by turning up and taking part.

So, this is what I have learnt so far and it’s really helped me to be able to focus, keep going and achieve.

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