Sorry I’m late. I’ve been distracted the past couple of weeks by the Olympics. And what a glorious two weeks it has been – particularly if you are Canadian. Canada placed third in the medal count – behind the United States and Germany. We did, however, receive more medals than at any other games in our history. Canada also has the distinction of setting the world record for the most gold medals – fourteen – ever awarded to one country at a Winter Games. Pretty cool.
They are many stories to tell about the Olympics. There are also so many things we can learn from them. Here are some random examples that came to me:
First, I have often spoken in my keynote speeches about the difference between ‘sweating in private’ versus ‘sweating in public’. This means, of course, that you must do all of your preparation and planning in advance so that the performance looks effortless. Unfortunately for the Canadian men’s hockey team, they had to do some of their preparation in the public eye, and it showed. The team had to experiment with line combinations, for example, throughout the tournament as they had little time to practice prior to the tournament. In the end, although they had to play four games in six days, they came together and won the Gold. (And what a thrilling game it was; hats off to the American team.)
Second, how Evgeni Plushenko, the Russian figure skater won Silver when he expected Gold. The difference – in my opinion, and that of many of the pundits – was that he barely walked through his routine in the practice session on the day of the finals. He violated what I call the Ramsay Rule. John Ramsay, a great Scottish sleight-of-hand magician, always stressed the need to practice the sequence or routine before the show – on the day of the show. Plushenko didn’t and it showed. His jumps and landings were not as crisp as they should have been. That was the difference.
Third, to win one must be committed to the entire process. Olympic champions must execute at every moment during their event. It was sad to see, for example, a potential Gold medalist settle for Silver because he let up for a fraction of a second near the finish line because he thought he was in a position to win.
Fourth, when you push the envelope, disastrous things happen, but without pushing that envelope, you cannot win. You saw this all the time in the speed-skating events. How heartbreaking it must have been for the South Korean team when, instead of sweeping the podium, the third place skater, trying to jump ahead, wiped out – and took the second place skater, a fellow countryman, out of the race.
Fifth, even with a perfect race, the difference between first and second, or even fifth in any field is minimal. I’ll never forget, for example, Devon Kershaw, the Canadian cross-country skier who placed 5th in the 50 km race. The difference between his fifth place finish and first, after racing 50 km over the course of two plus hours – 1.6 seconds!
Sixth, the courage displayed in the face of adversity. This was on display in Vancouver perhaps more than at any other recent staging of the Games. First, from the team from Georgia who had to deal with the death of one of their colleagues, Nodar Kumaritashvili, a luger who flew off the track and was killed during a practice run on the afternoon of the opening ceremony; then, to the Canadian figure-skater, Joannie Rochette, whose greatest coach and fan – her mother – died of a heart attack at the Olympics a couple of days before her daughter’s Olympic skate. Rochette performed the skate of her life – twice – and won the Bronze medal.
[I’ve always been intrigued by the figure skating. It seems the closest thing to performing magic at the Games. It requires virtuoso skill, coupled with movement and music, rendered in an artistic manner. Very difficult.]
Finally, vision, that is the ability to visualize every aspect of your work, prior to executing it, and how important it is to success. In less than 28 seconds, for example, a man or woman skiing the moguls had to execute 64 different twists and turns, at exactly the right moment in the course, to achieve success, and how each athlete had the power to visualize each and every single one of those movements without actually making the run.
Don Greene discusses this technique, and many others, in his superb book Performing Success: Performing Your Best Under Pressure. Greene helps elite athletes and musicians cope with pressure and deliver maximum results. He maps out techniques for practicing and rehearsing leading up to the event, the importance of visualization, creating adverse or challenging conditions, and a host of other suggestions, so that you are in a position to win. I recommend his book for anyone serious about improving their game – and that includes the game of “business”.
Although the next Winter games are four years away, you can bet that not only are people preparing for them today, they have been doing so for years.
What are you waiting for?