What Driving in Italy Taught Me About Business Growth

Written for EO by Joshua Carlsen, who heads business-to-consumer lead generation and client retention at Propelo Media, an EO company owned by San Francisco member Andre Chandra.

On a recent vacation in Italy, I enjoyed amazing sights and experiences, ranging from Michelangelo’s The David and the once-buried-now-excavated city of Pompeii to The Pantheon. I also indulged in culinary delights, including my first taste of fresh, perfect mozzarella, Chianti wine as it’s meant to be enjoyed and—though I don’t have a sweet tooth—cannoli.

I could go on about my cultural endeavors for hours—did I mention how breathtaking Capri is?—but the one thing I can’t stop thinking about is the jaw-dropping experience of driving in Italy. It’s quite unlike any other travel experience I’ve had.

Let me set the scene: I was driving an oversized, nine-passenger van (strike one against me). The passengers included three couples, all equally terrified about the driving situation and unable not to vocalize their paralyzing fear (strike two). And, perhaps the most important factor: The Italian streets are incredibly narrow and the rules of the road, along with lane markers and general courtesy, are considered mere suggestions (strike three).

Actual van prior to boarding a ferry. (It was a much easier ride when out on the water.)

While there was visible police presence across the country, only once in 10 days did I see any police involvement in the traffic realm—when an officer was physically directing traffic around a fender-bender incident.

So, after each day of driving, while sitting in our villa with Chianti in hand, I’d start trying to make sense of the madness on Italian roads.

It surprised me to realize that, despite all the chaos, the aforementioned accident was the only road incident that I’d seen in my 10 days in Italy. Back home in the US, I see at least one accident per day while driving the roads. I validated my observation by looking up accident reports and found that my suspicions were correct: Italy has only half of the motor vehicle accidents that we have in the US.

After a few days considering this conundrum, I developed two primary takeaways for driving successfully on Italy’s roads:
1. Be aggressive
2. Trust your instincts

These two factors aren’t just necessary when driving in Italy; they’re also great reminders about how we should all approach growing our businesses.

Be aggressive

I’m a fairly cautious driver: the type that keeps at least one car length of space ahead for every 10 mph I’m going. This is nearly impossible to accomplish in Italy. If you leave a few car lengths open in front of you, another car trying to get ahead will dart in and fill that space.

In terms of driving, this technique allows one to get to their destination faster. When it comes to business growth, getting there first is important, but it’s even more critical for staying in the top position so you can control market share. If you’re not consistently and continuously aggressive, you’ll start to create voids within the competitive marketplace. These voids instantly become open doors for competitors who then begin chipping away at your market share.

It’s important to note that there is a significant difference between being aggressive and being busy. Everyone is busy, but successful leaders understand this distinction and ensure that their efforts are aligned toward aggressiveness that produces real progress and growth.

Trust your instincts

The ebb and flow of traffic in Italy change at an alarming rate, and there is little time to evaluate the pros and cons of a merge or a turn, which is where trusting your instincts becomes invaluable. You see an opening, and you inherently know that you’re going to make it and act—because, if you wait, that opening will be gone.

Trusting your instinct when growing your business is just as valuable. Your ability to make decisions and react quickly is paramount in business.

Mark Zuckerberg famously coined the phrase, “Move fast and break things.” This ideology only works by hiring the right people and allowing them to use their experience and instincts to react quickly. Failures will happen, but even these we can learn from, and they often reveal insights that lead to a better approach.

If you ever find yourself driving in Italy on vacation, you’ll be more prepared. In the meantime, try applying these behaviors to your company to more easily achieve your business goals.

Joshua Carlsen works at Propelo Media, an omni-channel direct marketing agency based in San Francisco, CA, that was founded by EO member Andre Chandra. Andre has more than 10 years of experience as a management consultant and project manager. He oversaw multi-million dollar business operations, marketing and management strategies for various private companies and profit-generating government agencies before launching Propelo.

Categories: FINANCES Lessons Learned


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