Run With the Bulls Without Getting Trampled

The Qualities You Need
to Stay Out of Harm's Way
and Thrive at Work

By Tim Irwin, Nelson Business, 256 pp. $24.99

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Reviewed by Cecil Johnson

If you fall down while sprinting with a crowd of folks along a narrow, fenced-off street in front of a herd of ferocious, 1,400-pound bulls, stay down, advises management consultant Tim Irwin.

In his new book, Run With the Bulls Without Getting Trampled, Irwin points out that scores of runners are injured - some of them seriously - every year while running with the bulls during the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. Since 1924, he says, men have made the run for the Plaza de Toros.

He relates an incident that occurred when he and one of his sons ran with the bulls in Pamplona a few years ago. They barely managed to climb a fence to safety when the bulls came charging.

"A runner 50 yards ahead of us was not as fortunate. One of the bulls in the lead knocked him over without breaking stride. We were all told that if you fell down, the cardinal rule was to stay on the ground until all the bulls passed by. I knew that if I went down, I was going to cover my head and get into a fetal position. This young man decided to get up and move to the side. As he stood, another charging bull knocked him down.

"Incredibly, the same runner tried to stand up one more time! As we watched the slow-motion replay later that day, the runner looked like a quarterback blindsided by a blitzing linebacker penetrating the line untouched - knocked into the air, his back arched and his head snapping backwards," Irwin writes.

One of the lessons Irwin is trying to teach for thriving in the worlds of work and business with this "stay-down" advice obviously is the importance of not continuing to make the same mistakes. But, in a more general sense, he is using running with the bulls at Pamplona as a metaphor for the workplace in general and a mechanism for providing instruction in how to avoid its perils, take advantage of its opportunities, and infuse "significance" into your life and work.

He believes this is a fitting metaphor, because doing significant work and living a significant life, in his view, involve taking some risks.

Irwin compares those who are unwilling to take risks to the "posers" in Pamplona. He says they wear the same white uniform with red sash as the other runners, and they do run - but from a safe distance near the arena - and jog in just before the bulls get there.

"They talked the talk, but didn't run the run. You and I know people who do not really engage at work and life in a serious way. Perhaps afraid, these individuals show very limited initiative and take no risks. Nothing of significance emanates from their lives. They show up for work, but dwell constantly in the twilight of obscurity, usually rated the benign 'satisfactory performer' on their annual performance appraisal," Irwin explains.

He maintains that everyone is in a race like the Pamplona run whether they choose it or not. Therefore, it is imperative to cultivate the skills to run with the bulls of the workplace to keep from getting knocked down, trampled and gored repeatedly. And he stresses the importance of developing a "strategic mind-set" to be able to navigate among all the others competing, sometimes unfairly, to get to their objectives.

Irwin says it is normal for bulls to "rage" around constantly in the workplace, taking such forms as inept managers, downsizings, misguided compensation systems, personnel churn, dysfunctional IT systems, and ill-considered work processes and structures.

"To view these organizational realities as unfair or out to get us is impractical and maybe even naive. These 'organization bulls' are indifferent to us (unless we get in their way), ultimately not caring whether or not we reach our goals, but whether or not they reach theirs," Irwin writes.

Within the framework of the running-with-the-bulls metaphor, Irwin delivers essentially the same advice about self-analysis, self-management, relating to others, humility, reliability, flexibility, planning, preparation, competency, and other essentials for success that one finds in many other books of that genre that have been published lately.

It is the uncommon way in which Irwin has packaged this volume of common practical wisdom that makes this book a worthwhile read.

This review first appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.