Lessons from the Olympics for your business

Posted on: 19 February 2014

Olympic lessons have been taught to businesses a thousand times over. Here’s how you can learn something new.

Olympic winning strategies have been dissected to the bone in the quest to find valuable applications in business. But which do you chose?

We’ve picked two strategies, one from Sochi 2014 and one from Syndey 2000, that we think will make a real difference to your business.

Firstly, Lizzie Yarnold, who ‘felt her way’ to winning Britain’s fifth ever Winter Olympic gold on Valentine’s Day. And then Ben Hunt-Davis, the Olympic rower who forgot about winning so that he could secure gold in Sydney 2000.

Sochi 2014 – medal hopes

The Winter Olympics has captured the British imagination like no other winter Games before. We’ve been watching Clare Balding’s highlights every night in the hope that Team GB can beat its anticipated haul of just 3 medals.

As always in sport, so far there have been some unlucky losers. James Woods (slopestyle), Billy Morgan (snowboard slopestyle) and Elise Christie (short track speed skating) have all missed out (unfairly some would say in Elise’s case). Lizzie Yarnold, however, will be bringing home a gold in skeleton speed racing.

The lesson from Lizzy Yarnold: feel your way

Lizzy has a lot to share about her switch from the shot-put (she was ranked 54th in the UK in 2010) to the skeleton. Based on an assessment of her mental and physical fitness, and her reaction to a DVD of previous British women’s Olympic skeleton champions, she took up the sport just as Amy Williams won gold in the event at the Vancouver Olympics. Her determination certainly got her a long way, but her ability to memorise the track quickly and accurately is what ultimately got her a record lead over the competition.

Talking to the Guardian after receiving her medal, Lizzy explained that “…even though you can see what is going on you also have to feel through your body.”

Business owners can apply the same attitude to business. As much as you can see the sales in your shop, the production in your factory or the activity in your office, you have to tune into how well it feels too. If you stand back and watch the commotion around you, does it feel seamless, fluid and efficient? Or does it feel jerky, lumbered or simply wrong? Are conversations productive or frustrated? Are products and services being delivered with a smile or with an exasperated sigh?

Once you know how your business feels, you can then decide what to do to improve it. You might call a staff meeting to address inefficiencies in your sales process. Or you could provide training on dealing with difficult customers.

Because tuning into how situations feel and focusing on how to improve that feeling can make a real difference.

Sydney 2000 – British rowing

Most of us remember Sydney 2000 because Sir Steve Redgrave was trying to win his fifth Olympic gold in the coxless fours. But for the men’s coxed eight, the focus was on winning their first medal. Having come 7th place in too many of their preceding races, expectations were low. But they had a winning strategy.

The lesson from Ben Hunt-Davis: if you want to win, forget about winning

Ben’s book ‘Will it make the boat go faster?’ tells the story of how Ben and his team won gold in Sydney. It also shares their techniques and, demonstrates how businesses can apply their strategies for everyday success.

One of the messages from Ben’s book is that we often think too much about achieving our end goal without focusing on how we’re going to get there. It might sound obvious, but when we’re under pressure from a client to deliver a big order on time, or if things have gone wrong and we’re having to play catch up, we tend to forget about the processes we’re using to get things right.

This means working out who on the factory floor is going to do what and how you are going to enable them to do it as quickly as possible. It also means dissecting what has gone wrong and ensuring it doesn’t happen again.

As Ben so poignantly puts it: “Focus on the process and success will take care of itself.”

How Olympic-winning strategies can work for you

We all have too much to do. And we all have too little time in which to do it. So finding space to apply Olympic-winning strategies to our business can seem impossible. But we believe that by learning from one or two of those strategies and making them part of your organisation’s DNA, you can give yourself a deserved Olympic gold before moving on to winning the next one.


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