What can business learn from our Olympic success

13th August 2012
Huge congratulations to Team GB, their families, the coaching and support staff and the volunteers.

It’s been a massive effort by thousands of people. They all deserve gold in our view.

Now that the events are over what can we take away from these great performances? In particular, what lessons can businesses learn about how to improve and maintain their performance?

This is what we’ve picked up over the last two weeks;
  • Conditioning is both physical and mental; you need to work on mind and body if you want the gold. Winners stick to the training regime, get their mind right, and know that training is what carries you through even when your body isn’t quite 100%. Think Usain Bolt in the 200 metres final.
  • The lesson; it’s not just about keeping physically fit, it’s about keeping your mind in peak condition too. You get that mental fitness from a good Executive coach. You don’t get it from a personal trainer.
  • Focus; you need to be able to switch on a deep, almost trance-like focus prior to your performance in order to bring all your resources, mental and physical, together to apply them all to the task ahead. There are some athletes, like Bolt and Mo Farah, who can switch off this focus to appreciate the crowd, soaking in the atmosphere, and then switch their focus back to the job in hand.
  • The lesson; like Jackie Chan says in the Karate Kid “Your focus needs more focus”. We’ve found with our clients that more awareness brings more appreciation of the little things, which brings more satisfaction and contentment.
  • Speed endurance; Michael Johnson has been banging on about this for years. It’s about being able to maintain peak performance from gun to tape. So if you’re a 100m sprinter, part of your practice is doing 150 metre sprints. Likewise if your event is the 200m, you practice with some 400m runs. This is a form of overtraining, and its purpose is to build capacity so that you know that you have enough to carry you safely through the line, not just to it.
  • The lesson; doing a little bit more than you need to do each day builds your stamina so that you have the extra 5-10% you need for those difficult days. Once you start, keep at it. You can only draw on capacity that’s already there.
  • Relaxed posture; in all the best performances the shoulders were relaxed, allowing for better breathing, easier movement and no wasted energy. “Relaxed” is a word we heard not just for sprinters, but in relation to long distance running (David Rudishe) cycling (Bradley Wiggins) and swimming (Michael Phelps).
  • The lesson; we say “Keep Calm and Stay in the Moment”. Staying relaxed is something you get better at it with practice. It starts with breathing slowly and deeply. Try it.
  • Mindful training; Former athletes talking to each other on the late night show on the BBC talked about the importance of training with purpose. Not doing it mindlessly, just going through the motions, but keeping the end goal in mind at all times. This, they agreed, made training more effective, and that meant better performances on the big day.
  • The lesson; for most of us the day job is our training, but it’s very easy to “coast” or just switch to autopilot, especially when we’ve been doing the job for a while. The way to prevent coasting starts with training your focus. How to point it at a situation, and how to shift it between different tasks. Again, it improves quite quickly with practice.
  • Incremental improvement; the cyclists on the sofa with Gabby said that they had been sharing some of their approach with GB coaches and athletes from other sports. The BBC news website reported that while the rest of the world wants to know their secrets, the process the GB cycling team uses is relatively straightforward. They break down every aspect of the discipline into the smallest elements and then ask how they can improve each one by 1%. The sum of all those 1% improvements is the difference between gold and nowhere. These are couple of their examples. Washing your hands reduces your risk of infection, particularly colds, by a small margin, so they wash their hands regularly. That’s not just a habit, it’s part of their training. When Sir Chris Hoy is recovering from a training session he is not allowed to go out – that includes going to the shops – as it carries an increased risk of injury, which would disrupt the training programme. That is not rest, it’s an important part of the training.
  • The lesson; Break down what you do as a business into its core elements and ask yourselves how you can improve each bit by 1%. We think it works best as a facilitated session – that way everyone can join in. And if you want to make incremental improvement an integral part of your culture, read Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh of Zappos. He talks about how they implemented a 1% continual improvement culture in his business before they sold it to Amazon for a billion dollars.

We hope these help you, but these are only our views. We’d love to hear yours too.


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