Well, as Sir Bruce Forsyth would say…… “Didn’t we do well!”
As the gold dust settles from London 2012, I wanted to share some thoughts with you on the extraordinary spectacle and experience we’ve just been through – and some observations that might be of use in you Entrepreneurial life.
I was going to write this email the day of the closing ceremony but I think it may be of more use today, as Britain starts to get back to ‘normal.’ The following is really written for my UK readers. If you’re outside Britain, don’t be offended. We’re feeling rather proud of ourselves at the moment.
So, some thoughts on the London Olympics of 2012…….
First, I had forgotten what an extraordinary country Britain can be. Somewhere, back in the mists of times, our ancestors had the balls to call our country GREAT Britain. I think we had lost track of why. I know I had. The last month has shown us why. It’s been exciting to be here over the last few weeks but it’s also been a privilege. The organisational and logistic achievement of what we did and how well we did it was breathtaking. I’m not sure what was more impressive…..turning up at the Olympic stadium and seeing this extraordinary creation – or leaving the stadium with a hundred thousand people and somehow getting onto that bullet train and back to London in 7 minutes without having to queue for a moment. I have absolutely no idea how they did it. I do know that the whole experience was a profound reminder that when we get our act together, we can do anything as well as any country on this planet – and in many cases much better. It’s worth us remembering that as we run our businesses. It’s easy to believe that we have an inherent disadvantage against the global economic superpowers. That’s not the case. If anything the opposite is true. We have a history of producing results massively dis proportionate to our relatively small population. Think of the opening ceremony and that never ending stream of music we have gifted the world.
Talking of music, that wonderful opening ceremony also reminded us of our creative genius. From The Beatles, to Shakespeare and so much more, we are an island brimming with creativity. I’ve always argued that great Entrepreneurism isn’t primarily about business skills. They’re easy to master. Great Entrepreneurism is about creativity. Whatever business you have, you’ve created it out of absolutely nothing. Reaching your goals and solving future problems will require skill – but above all it will require your creativity. Tapping into our innate creativity is something we could all do more of.
As an aside, it’s also worth remembering that there’s a direct link between creativity, intelligence and humour. A sense of humour requires the ability to link seemingly unrelated factors in your brain in unusual ways. So does creativity and intelligence. I’ve been constantly reminded of Britain’s sense of humour over these weeks. From Rowan Atkinson’s Chariots of Fire, to the jokes and banter of those incredible volunteers; our sense of humour is an asset. There were mumblings after the opening ceremony that some countries wouldn’t ‘get’ some of it. No they wouldn’t…. that’s the point!
My American friends are fond of proclaiming their country the greatest on earth. I respect their patriotism but I don’t think the world is that black and white. In any context, we have the opportunity to be as good, or better than anyone else. I know that Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin America airline is kicking ass in the country of supposed superior customer service. There’s no reason you can’t do the same in your own field of endeavour.
I’m as guilty as anyone of complaining about my country. There’s a lot wrong with it, but in August 2012 that country did something to me it had never done before. It humbled me. A couple of weeks ago I strolled across Blackheath Common where I used to stumble as a teenager after an evening at the pub – and walked into Greenwich Park to experience not only the most stunning backdrop imaginable for the Equestrian Events, but also Britain winning gold. I wasn’t expecting that and I certainly wasn’t expecting how emotional it would be when they raised the flag and played the anthem. I don’t claim to be an equestrian expert but it seems this all happened because one of our team, in his 50s, broke his neck a few years ago and was told he’d never ride again and totally refused to buy into his diagnosis. That’s another thing the British are good at – sheer bloody minded stubbornness.
The next thing may be obvious – but it’s worth focusing on. The Olympic Games is about the leading edge of human excellence. You’ve just had two and a half weeks surrounded by human beings at the pinnacle of that excellence. One of the interesting things about studying excellence is that the context is fairly irrelevant if you’re interested in learning from high achievers. In other words, the fact that Bradley Wiggins rides bikes and you might run a business doesn’t matter, if you’re interested in learning profound lessons from Bradley. In fact, the British cycling team’s three pronged approach to success that has made them the best in the world, can be mapped across to business almost word for word. For example, their approach to incremental improvements is what we would call optimisation. It would be a very good use of your time to watch interviews with the high achievers from the Olympics and take notes. I did and have lots of sheets of paper from the last couple of weeks stuffed in my pockets as a result.
There are numerous lessons we can learn from the gold medal winners and most are beyond the scope of this message. But I’ll make one observation. I didn’t see any gold medal winners who got there by making a vague decision about how successful they’d like to be, putting in the same effort as the masses and not working weekends. I’m not sure why so many business owners who take that type of half-hearted approach, are so surprised that their life is such a struggle. You get gold by getting up when everyone else is asleep and putting in the work that others won’t. Then you do it again and again and again through rain, sleet and snow. You get gold by failing and coming out of that failure with an iron resolve that nobody will shake. You get gold by doing the gymnastic leap of your life, with a bandaged broken toe.
Of course, when we see the proud athlete with their gold medal glistening in the London sun, we don’t see the cold, dark mornings of training they endured to get there. Likewise, when you turn up in your shiny new car (or whatever your equivalent) the people in your world won’t necessarily have seen the Entrepreneurial pain and heartache you endured to get there. But the gold medal winner and the Entrepreneurial winner are the same in many ways. They know precisely what they want. And they’re willing to pay the price to get it.
Finally, one of the great joys of the 2012 Olympics was that Britain stopped moaning – an extraordinary achievement! I experienced several London taxi drivers who were totally silent. There was nothing to moan about, so they had nothing to say. Ironically, most of us Brits think we stopped moaning because the Olympics were so great. I would say that the Olympics were so great partly because we stopped moaning. You simply can’t have that level of excellence with negativity. The laws of the universe won’t allow it.
Our culture and our media’s obsession with negativity is, I believe, one of Britain’s greatest challenges going forward. This economy will pass. Our attitudes won’t. That media and culture are eagerly awaiting the ‘return to normal’ so that they can claim that the high we experienced at the Olympics was a flash in the pan. Actually, as a nation, they’ll be right. Six months from now the country may be about as negative as it was six months ago.
But the same does not have to be true for YOU as an individual.
If you’re in Britain you’ve just experienced your country functioning at an extraordinary level of excellence. You’ve seen what we’re truly capable of, when strategy, mind-set and a belief in possibility are aligned. And as if that wasn’t enough, hundreds of the world’s most incredible, success driven individuals have come to your country and shown you, day after day, levels of human achievement that are simply staggering.
I hope you enjoyed the Olympics as much as I did. But I also hope that you’ll consider using it as a wake-up call. A wake up to what you’re capable of; maybe a wake up to the fact that you’re not even scratching the surface of your true potential.
And remember, you live in a country where James Bond went to pick up the Queen to take her to the Olympics. It’s OK to be proud.