For perspective, I feel like I say it 1000 times in a week; limits are meant to be overcome, not yielded to. When I hear someone say, I can’t do this because of this, or I can’t do that, I immediately hear laziness in the terminology. It’s a lazy approach to life because skills are often needed to be developed to achieve a task. And when people tell you that something can’t be done, it’s because they are too lazy to do it, plain and simple. I understand limits, but as I talk about constantly in my new book, The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business, perceptions of what is achievable today will be shattered tomorrow with lots of practice. That is certainly the case with various fast draw competitions that go on all over the country that are less known to most of the world because they exist in pockets of Americana. We seem to understand these kinds of things in sports, where rookies improve with experience, and that few people expect a newly drafted football player to go straight to the NFL and be a superstar. It takes time and development to become great. And that is true too in how we make all our livings. When I hear someone tell me that it takes this much time to do this kind of thing, that is never a fixed value. But is only a point of reference that should always be pushed for and achieved. That is why I suggest that all business people stop thinking in controlled statistical ways and always look for innovation opportunities to explore what can be done, not what lazy people tell you can be.
Every year that I do the Annie Oakley Wild West Show in Darke County during the last weekend of July each year, I go through this process. It’s always one of the fun weekends that I give myself to keep the world in focus. I love Darke County, Ohio. It reminds me of many towns out west and brings the heart of America close, so it’s easy to see. And this year was no different. We have the bullwhip competitions that I always participate in, where many of these ideas about business have matured over the years and eventually evolved into the themes of this book. Now that I am one of the elderly participants, the competitions have become a period of self-reflection for me rather than a nervous do-or-die thing with legacy performers from years past. As I also talk about in The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business, young people need more than anything a reputation to launch them into life. Well, I have my reputation well intact, and nobody can ever take that from me, even if the thing we are doing is relatively tiny in the scheme of things. The bullwhip competitions of Annie Oakley for me were always a big deal because the people who do them are unique. The activity is out of the box, and you develop a genuine respect for the people who share that space with you. And the competition pushes you always to get better. And once you push yourself to get better and have success, you realize that the same holds with just about everything in life, including decisions that cost millions of dollars either way if success or failure is utilized. That may be the life I’m in now, but over the years, my grounding in these cowboy arts always kept things authentic to me and gave me perspectives that nobody else was considering, even though they probably should have.
The two videos I’ve included in this article are from two bullwhip competitions from this latest 2021 Annie Oakley show. I always do pretty well in those, but the value in winning has diminished a lot over time. What matters most to me, what has become an obsession of sorts, is managing all the competition variables in these kinds of things. In both competitions, the goal is to cut as many cups off the target stands at the fastest rate that you can. One competition, the Speed Switch, requires you to do so with both hands. The other, Speed and Accuracy, is all one hand and in sequence. If you miss a cup, it’s a 5-second penalty. You get two attempts at each cup. You have to stand six feet from the target and not cross the line with your feet. The time starts on your first crack. Those are the rules. That is the way participants interact with the competition. Like in all things in life, that is how we plan to achieve success, cutting as many targets as possible in the fastest time you can. What fascinates me is all the variables that come up in pressured events that can wreck those plans. The people who usually win at these things, whether they are in bullwhip competitions or big business deals, can manage those variables.
Many talented people are good at the exhibitions in the bullwhip world, but not so good at the competitions. Without the pressure of time, where they can show off the skills that they’ve practiced for hundreds of hours, they are magnificent world record holders, and it looks great for an audience. But when they apply the same methods to a timed competition, things go bad and don’t look so good. It has always fascinated me how the difference between the two is so applicable to life in general. People who study and practice a lot in life can put on a great show. But when the pressure is on, they usually choke. That choke is what people tell me thousands of times a week and expect me to accept because that has become fashionable in the world, to accept failure. Instead, my thing is to get comfortable with pressure and danger and learn to manage the variables. Not to yield to them.
I have done those contests for many decades now every year at the Annie Oakley event, and not a single one has ever been the same. Sometimes the popper blasts off the end of my whip. Sometimes the whip gets caught on the target stand, as happened this year. Sometimes we perform on grass, sometimes on smoothed concrete where the whip slowly slides all over the place. Sometimes the wind kicks up and throws off your aim. Sometimes, a speedy guy will have luck catching most of the targets on their first run, forcing you to go faster than you are comfortable with. All those variables are what make the good from the bad. It’s not the skill; everyone who competes has talent. But it’s in how you manage the variables that matter most.
Ultimately, that is one of the big takeaways from The Gunfighter’s Guide to Business. I’ve been a professional in the industry for more than three decades, and I work with people who also have a lot of experience. Everyone has lots of experience; they go to college, get trained and try to do the best they can. My point is that little things like these extra little competitions I do, such as bullwhip competitions force you to adapt to all the things they don’t teach you in an orthodox society. How can you use your skills to accommodate all the things that happen that you don’t control? Can you still win then? Well, of course, you can. But what makes me madder than a hornet that some kid has stuck a stick into its nest is when someone tells me something can’t be done because they have not learned themselves how to manage variables in their life. That they accept that anything outside of their skill level is a mystery that they automatically yield to. To me, that is just the kind of thing they should all be training for, in having the skill to do the job, but in honing those skills so that they can adapt to the variables that come up along the way. That they can successfully manage the situation when it’s never optimal and still succeed.