Six Olympic lessons for business

19 Aug 2016

Lesson 1 What you measure and reward is what gets achieved

Outside the UK people are questioning how the GB cycling team loses at World events and then dominates at the Olympics, winning 12 out of 30 medals including 6 golds, with the next closest country winning just 2 golds and 5 medals. But really it is no mystery - cycling gets £30 million in funding and the lottery funding is dependent on success at the Olympics. World championship success doesn’t matter, it doesn’t secure funds – what you reward and what you focus on is what you get the best results in.

Lesson 2 Confidence and belief can achieve miracles

Once Team GB started winning it has become infectious – it’s not about rankings, it’s about feeling that others have achieved so I can, even though in World rankings it would look absurd. And it is about others in the team also believing and expecting success so it becomes the norm – unfortunately the opposite can be true - expect to fail and that will also become true.

Lesson 3 The team is mightier than the individual

Much of the inspiration of the Olympics has been in team events – seeing people playing for each other and achieving so much. Every winner, even the individuals, has talked about the team involved in the success.

Lesson 4 You can’t do it on your own

Every single person at the Olympics has had a coach to help them get there, to provide support, encouragement, feedback – to help them achieve their success. Coaching is as relevant in running organisations and achieving results anywhere.

Lesson 5 We can all be inspired and feel better

It’s been a tough year across the world. Terrorist attacks and the uncertainty caused by Brexit for example. Yet focusing on the positive in the Olympics can make us feel better and be inspired. It certainly has made me feel better and more positive. We can all change our mood by looking for positive rather than negative things to focus on – let’s hope the media can help us.

Lesson 6 The impact of what you do can be bigger than you dreamed

I had started this blog thinking it would be five lessons and then reading the paper this morning I found out about the Refettorio Gastromotiva set up by the world leading chef Massimo Bottura. He has set up a restaurant for the poor and homeless in Rio using the waste and spare food from the Olympic village. The scale of the waste is huge – so much that it can’t all be used by the restaurant, so some is sent to other organisations who distribute food across Rio. Bottura is collaborating with David Hertz, a distinguished Brazilian chef and social entrepreneur. He approached the Rio Olympics organising committee and the IOC, but got no support. “No-one was interested. There was nothing,” says Hertz, who has spent the past ten year training those from difficult backgrounds to work as kitchen assistants and spreading the message about good food.

“The Olympics are important for this. It can be an amplifier,” Bottura says, amid frantic preparations for serving 70 diners. “But they are only the start. It is about more than feeding people. We want to rebuild the dignity of people. We want people to walk in and say: ‘Wow! They are serving us?’ We want them to see what food can be. We already see it every night here. They are shaking their heads.”

The New York Times describes it:
“At 6 pm, the door flung open and the diners shuffled in, eyes wide with anticipation. The chef explained each course, which emerged from the open kitchen on simple white china. Cheers and applause filled the room.
One diner, Rene da Conceição, said the food was the best he’d had in his 40 years, the past nine of which he has spent living with his wife on the streets of Rio.
“Oh my God, he takes banana peels and makes incredible ice cream,” he gushed afterward. “And you know, we ate food from Italy!”
A thin, bedraggled man with a wide, infectious smile, Mr. Conceição explained that his meals were usually scavenged from garbage bins and that he went to bed hungry many nights. Since the Olympics began, he said, the police have barred him from Copacabana, a neighborhood that provides a cornucopia of discarded food and items like cardboard that can be sold to recyclers.
More than filling his stomach, Refettorio Gastromotiva, he said, had provided much-needed dollops of kindness and respect.
“These guys, they shake your hand and they treat you like you’re a boss,” he said. “I thought I was dreaming and told my wife to pinch me. But it wasn’t a dream.”

So for me the Olympics is about more than sport -  it can be about changing the world by using its waste and that’s why I cried. If we all think more we can also change the world.