My (one & only) obligatory "Management Lessons from the Olympics" blog post


I'm feeling a little bit lonely out here. I may be the only person in the blogosphere not to blog about the Olympics. No "Leadership Secrets from the Balance Beam."

No "Three Things You Can Learn from Sprint Cycling."

No "Teamwork Lessons from Dressage."

And no "What Synchronized Divers can Teach You about Innovation."

But now that the Olympics are over and the Olympic-related posts are (mercifully) dying down, I'll give it a shot. I think we can learn a lot from the track & field events. (Of course, I'm a former competitive track and field runner (and coach), so what did you expect?)

The Value of Consistency and Patience: Galen Rupp (silver medal, 10,000m) is the first American medalist in the event since Billy Mills in 1964. Rupp is supremely talented and worked his ass off over the past four years to get to the medal stand. However, there was absolutely no magic to his training program -- he repeats the same workouts every 8-12 weeks during his training cycle. The repetition of the same workouts provide consistency, a clear benchmark for improvement, and the ability to adjust (in the PDCA cycle) his training if needed. Lesson for businesses: don't abandon your tactics or approach to the market if they don't yield results in the first quarter. It's the steady accretion of your activities that leads to long-term success, especially when consistency allows you to engage in PDCA along the way.

Play to your Strengths: Usain Bolt (triple gold medalist in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay) isn't the fastest guy out of the blocks. At 6'5" he's much taller than the average sprinter (who's usually about 5'9"-5'11"), so it takes him longer to uncoil at the start and accelerate to top speed. However, Bolt does have the highest top end -- and that's what he focused on in his training, not his start. Lesson for businesses: emphasize your strengths rather than trying to shore up your weaknesses. If quality is your strong point (Whole Foods, Amazon), then push your quality so far beyond your competitors' that their products and services look second-rate. If service is your bailiwick (Nordstrom, Zappos), then make your standard the gold standard.

Believe in your Strategy. And Stick with It: David Rudisha (gold medal, WR in 800m) is a rarity among middle distance runners: in big races he doesn't run "tactically," lurking in the back or middle of the pack and waiting to kick in the last 200m. He runs *his* race: he takes it out hard from the start and forces everyone to run on his terms. (Rudisha developed this approach after he lost a major race because he was boxed in at the end and couldn't accelerate to the front.) This tactic isn't without risk: if he goes out too hard, or if he's not in peak form, he could easily get outkicked by a fresher competitor who conserved his strength. But Rudisha would rather lose on his terms than on someone else's. And in fact he hasn't lost -- the tremendous pace he sets from the beginning takes the sting out of others' kicks. Lesson for businesses: you've got to stick with the strategy you believe in and execute it. Properly formulated strategy will leverage your strengths and unique capabilities. Don't change it because other companies are taking a different approach. Have faith in it, and don't run other people's races. Otherwise you might get boxed in.

 

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