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If you're a pedal, be a pedal

A pedal is not a bicycle. It’s not even a strictly essential part. But I’d rather my bicycle have pedals!

To work well, a bicycle needs all of its parts. But for parts to work well together, each part must first work well individually.

To be useful, a part has to meet a specific need. It must have a well-defined function and be able to fulfill said function alone.

A pedal can’t give direction: that’s the handlebar job. A pedal won’t directly drive power to the wheels: that’s what the chain is for.

But pedals feed energy to the chain, which transfers it to the wheels, thus allowing the bicycle to move in the direction set by the handlebar.

Bicycle and teams

The bicycle metaphor above came to my mind in the context of teamwork.

Each person in a working group is just a part of the team. By definition, no part can be the whole. Everyone is important, yet no one is irreplaceable.

If it’s not crystal clear that every role matters, people may feel undervalued or dissatisfied – which will reflect on the group dynamics (and results).

Here’s a slightly less metaphorical example that also came to mind: even the strongest 11 forwards (or goalkeepers) would make a terrible football team.

Leadership and dance

Pretty much like a coach leads a football team and you lead your bicycle, just about any group of people may also benefit from having a leader.

(Incidentally, teams may also act as a form of collective intelligence – such as an ant colony or a swarm of honeybees. But that was not relevant in my case.)

To get across my point, I drew an example from a recent experience of mine: when two people dance Lindy Hop, one must lead and the other must follow.

If both were leaders, they would be trying to do different steps all the time and likely not only clash with each other but also crash into each other.

If both were followers, neither would take the initiative to give their partner clear directions and a framework within which they can dance in harmony.

At the end of the day, leaders cannot exist without followers (and vice versa).

Systems and subsystems

Given my penchant for abstraction, I’d like to make this post more general.

Think of bicycles (or teams) as systems and parts (or people) as subsystems.

Any subsystem must first accomplish its goal on its own. Only then it can interact with other subsystems and positively contribute to a system.

(Also, any system is made of subsystems and can be a subsystem itself. If you fancy this theory, you may want to delve into systems thinking and design thinking.)

Cycling back to bicycles

A pedal alone will never make a full bicycle.

But if you happen to be a metaphorical pedal of a metaphorical bicycle, then you can just try to become a great pedal – gracefully and joyfully.

In different circumstances, you may be a handlebar. Or even the whole bicycle.

Some times it makes sense to dissect everything and focus on the details. Other times it’s more helpful to look at the big picture and think holistically.

From bicycles to airplanes (just because why not)

A bicycle without pedals can surely bring you from point A to point B, but it can also be a pain in the ass. Not to speak about a bicycle with no saddle.

We’re all different, and that’s perfectly fine. Maybe some need no pedals (nor saddles) for biking to be a joy. Perhaps their lack even adds to the fun! 😜️

After all, as Antoine de Saint Exupéry had it (although referring to planes):

It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.