Ever put the boot down at the lights to get ahead of a cyclist? (If you’ve answered anything but in the affirmative we all know you’re fibbing.)
Many a day I sat ‘parked’ in peak hour traffic, giddy to reach third gear, radio on, heat turned up, wondering what the heck these lycra-cladden creatures on two wheels must be thinking, weaving in and out of traffic while the grey clouds hovered overhead, forebodingly.
As someone who hadn’t sat on a bike in over a decade I admittedly couldn’t claim to understand the modern city cyclist - their thought processes, what made them tick, what was material to them or not, or for that matter what they really thought of me, the motorist – although I might have guessed!
As one, then ten, cyclists whizzed by my wing mirror I did get to wondering if there must be something in it. Exercise perhaps, but more likely the prospect of getting to work on time. Not that I was too bothered about finding out, mind you.
But then a strange thing happened. I fell in love with a baby blue vintage bike. Well, to be more specific, I fell in love with the brown wicker basket on said baby blue vintage bike and without even realising it, I had purchased the contraption, swept up in the dreamy prospect of cycling through the meadows on a sunny day to collect my fresh baguette and bottle of Bordeaux on the way home from work.
Except I live in Ireland. In the city. And there aren’t any (real) boulangeries.
I’ll readily admit that I didn’t get on my bike out of any virtuous motivation to improve my health, or save the planet. But like anything in life, when you’re exposed to a new way of doing things – or a new perspective – it can be liberating.
Up until this point in my life, I’d travelled by foot, car, taxi, train and tram. I was ignorant of the views of the cycling community. I soon discovered that cycling is indeed great for your fitness and clearing the cobwebs in the morning. I also discovered that other road users sometimes lack understanding when it comes to sharing space near the curb, when you have to avoid a pot hole. And that getting into work in half the time is worth getting caught in a rain shower.
This moment of clarity affirmed for me the importance of something I do every day in my professional life – assist leading organisations to really understand what their stakeholders are thinking, what’s important to them, and the perceptions they hold about things, and, critically, make the appropriate behavioural changes.
Sometimes different stakeholder groups have competing interests, sometimes their interests are aligned. But how can you possibly know – and I mean really know – unless you actually find out? One way in which organisations are making in-roads in this regard is to obtain and assess the views of their various stakeholder audiences through a formal stakeholder measurement process. By obtaining first-hand insights (both quantitative and qualitative) on a whole variety of topics, they are able to make informed decisions on everything from business strategy to communication strategy, in turn better managing their reputation by better understanding the stakeholders who influence it.
It’s not always possible to walk (or cycle) a mile in someone else’s shoes but it is possible to talk to people about what’s material to them and attempt to understand the lens through which they see the situation, issue, opportunity or challenge.
While I haven’t yet donned the full cycling regalia, I have taken to wearing the aforementioned lycra shorts under my romantic flowy skirt (in order to protect the derrière region, along with one’s dignity on a windy day).
Over and above the lycra, I’m still getting to grips with the norms of the cycling brigade but one insight I don’t need a stakeholder study to affirm is that ‘boys’ don’t like to be overtaken by ‘girls’ on vintage bikes.
And that once you’re on the bike, there’s no looking back.