4 Lessons Every Business Should Learn From the Rio Olympics

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on 24/08/2016

The 2016 Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro has come and gone!

I love the spirit the Olympic Games engender. For the fortnight it’s on, everyone is cheerful and supportive, willing on their country’s athletes (and their favourites) to victory.

The Olympics has demonstrated its ability to bring people and nations together over and over again.

And it’s not just inspiring from a sporting perspective. The way I see it, there are 4 lessons every business should learn from the Rio Olympics.

I’ll go through them briefly below.

Size Doesn’t Always Matter

Being an island of a mere 70 million or so did nothing to limit the ambitions of the United Kingdom’s Team GB.

Their aspirations were gargantuan, and their targets seemed implausible. But it all paid off, with our tiny nation finishing 2nd overall in the medals table, and beating larger nations such as China, Germany, India and Russia.

If you run a small or medium-sized business, are you intimidated by the “big boys” in your field?

Do you sometimes suffer from impostor syndrome, wondering why anyone would want to buy from YOU?

Full Disclosure: I sometimes do!

If you run a small or medium-sized business, are you intimidated by the "big boys" in your field?

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Being small has its advantages. It means you can be nimble and agile; you can make decisions quickly; and you can respond to your customers and market trends faster than a large business ever could.

All you need is limitless ambition, a strategy, and an actionable plan to follow through.

In one of the many interviews she’s given in the past fortnight, I heard the Chief Executive of UK Sport Liz Nicholl say that getting the return on investment in any Olympic sport takes about eight years. So, preparations for Rio began just after the Beijing Games in 2008.

You can achieve great things too, regardless of how big your business is, or how much capital outlay you have at the start. What you absolutely cannot do without is a great plan!

Acknowledge Your Mistakes

We often fall into the trap of thinking that admitting to failure in an area will expose us as somehow inadequate.

But when we deny our mistakes – or even worse, try to cover them up – the issue is exacerbated and the consequences much worse than we imagined.

Case in point? See Ryan Lochte. The gold-winning American swimmer took advantage of security concerns about the host city to cover up an act of alleged vandalism.

He could have faced up to his actions and offered to pay for the damage; that would have been that.

But his story caused an international furore, and the fallout has cost him his reputation and lucrative sponsorship deals.

The lesson? Own your mistakes. Learn from them, and use them as a stepping stone to greater things. If you cover them up, you won’t be able to control the fallout.

Bring Your People on the Journey

The inspirational performances were sheer feats of strength, discipline, endurance and perseverance. Usain Bolt’s triple-triple, Mo Farah’s double-double, Nick Skelton’s iconic gold at his 7th Games at the age of fifty-eight, the two Simones (Biles and Manuel) blazing trails in their respective events and for women of colour everywhere, to name a few!

But, where were the spectators and adoring fans? The build-up to the Games was plagued with stories of exhausted funds and budgets which had been blown. Then, after pulling off an incredible opening ceremony, many of the events were held in venues which were half-empty.

Locals in Rio said there was no way they could afford ticket prices if they weren’t discounted in such a way as to reflect the standard of living and current economic issues in Brazil…

…and therein lay the problem. To run your projects and business successfully, getting buy-in from your stakeholders is crucial. Achieving lasting success is more challenging when you neglect to take people along with you.

Getting buy-in from stakeholders is crucial. Lasting success is challenging if you don't take people along with you

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It could be your team, or your customers, or both. It could mean revising your pricing strategy, or putting a rigorous communication plan in place. Don’t forget to make sure they come alongside as you navigate your business through different projects, promotions and phases. It won’t benefit anyone if you sprint off into the distance, leaving everyone else baffled and disengaged.

There’s No Such Thing as Overnight Success

When watching the athletes cross the finish line, it’s easy to forget the process they go through to achieve their accolades.

Everyone loves the glory; wants it. However, no one is there when they wake up at 4.00am to train. When they train for eight hours a day, six days a week.

We don’t feel the “pain” of their strict nutritional plans. We see the finished articles and their results…and wonder why we don’t have the same speed, strength, agility or six-packs!

Are you ready to do the work?

It’s no different in business. There might be someone you admire – for me, it’s Sir Richard Branson. Nothing wrong with that; it’s useful to have a role model. We can, however, make the mistake of comparing where we are now to people who are ahead of us, forgetting about the process and journey they’ve undertaken to get where they are today.

Overnight success doesn’t exist. Not enduring success, anyway!

It takes consistency of commitment, discipline, hard work and perseverance over time…

…and don’t forget to savour every moment of the journey. That in itself, is half the fun and victory.