As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”
Team GB brought an incredible haul of medals back from this year’s Olympics Games in Rio. So what can we learn from Britain’s most successful medal haul in the last 100 years (Team GB closed the medals table in second place, ahead of China and beaten only by the United States – a country with a population of 321,418,820 compared to the UK’s 65,138,232)?
Dream Big … And Put a Plan into Action
The Rio Olympics has been jam packed with inspirational stories of athletes succeeding in the face adversity, whether that be financially or emotionally disadvantaged backgrounds, life-threatening illness or normal hardworking people who have given their best and got back up when knocked down. These Olympians dreamed their way to success by having a plan and acting on it. The reality is that talent on its own is not enough.
Whilst it’s essential to have a plan to follow, it’s also crucial that you can adapt if things change. This means being flexible under pressure, whether you are a marathon runner faced with high humidity, a sailor faced with choppy waters or an intern or graduate working in a changing economic climate. Winners will always be those that can quickly adapt to a new situation even if they wished the circumstances were different. Some factors will be in your control, others won’t.
It’s worth remembering that in the 2012 home games it took 5 days for team GB to bring home the gold, prompting medal expectations to be downgraded from 70 to 60. Britain’s Olympic boss’ realised that if the target was unachievable, Olympians would lose motivation. Similarly, we need to be adaptable with our own goals. Market conditions and circumstances can change, not everything will go our way. Targets should always inspire us. If we set goals that are unattainable or a constant struggle to achieve, the result will impact your confidence and performance.
As Rugby legend Heather Fisher says “If I struggle, other people are going to struggle (too)”. Resilience will allow you to bounce back and turn a negative into a positive. That way you will learn and evolve bigger, better, stronger. Certainly the women hockey players held their nerve against defending champions from the Netherlands. Eventually winning gold in a nail biting penalty shootout. Captain, Kate Richardson-Walsh said “Two years ago we went through some really difficult times as a squad and we pulled together and we said we wanted to be the difference, create history and inspire the future – and we have done that tonight.”
Even the athletes who weren’t as successful as they would have liked – such as Louis Smith, Tom Daley, Greg Rutherford and poor Lutalo Muhammad, who lost out on Taekwondo gold with less than half a second to go, showed enormous resilience in defeat. Whilst they all struggled to hide their disappointment that their one moment in four years didn’t quite go their way, they all immediately declared their intention to set the record straight at Tokyo 2020.
Mentors are Crucial
Olympic champions often state that without the advice and help of their coaches and support team they would never have succeeded. Similarly, whether you are just starting out or working your way up the career ladder, we can all gain huge advantage from the experience of a mentor. Their valuable insights can pinpointing how, when and what to adapt.
Just like the Olympians, we all sometimes need to move out of our safety zone. Whilst it should always be weighed against the likelihood of failure, nobody wins a medal without taking a risk. You will still stumble and fall. However, it’s your ability to bounce back up and learn from your mistakes that will ultimately make you a winner.
Work as a team
A common theme became apparent when watching the interviews with Britain’s medal winners. Their absolute delight was not just in achieving their own individual success, but also in pushing Team GB closer to its medal target.
As a surveyor, the work you do, isn’t only about you. It’s about the strength of your whole team, the happiness of your clients and the respect of your opposition, a concept that athletes grasp completely. People power should never be underestimated. If a team can collaborate effectively then it’s strategic vision can be transformed into operational success.
Think like a winner
In post match interviews, athletes often talk about how they visualised success before they performed, focusing more on their strengths than their weaknesses. That’s not to say that you should be arrogant – in fact, a bit of self-doubt can motivate and fuel determination. As has been the case for those Olympians who have returned after giving birth, or having recovered from injury or illness. There will always be someone who will doubt your ability to rise to the top, whether that’s in business or sport, but if you want to win you can’t let this affect your self-belief or focus on the finishing line.The best way to silence your critics is to stand on the podium and be recognised as the best in your field.
Marginal gains make for prizes
This method was first pioneered by a former professional cyclist with an MBA, Sir Dave Brailsford, who in 2003 became the British cycling teams performance director. Up until this point, British cyclists had only collected one gold medal in the entire 76 years of Olympic Games. By the time the 2008 Beijing Olympics came around they had won seven of the ten gold medals on offer. At this year’s Rio Olympics, they made it 8 out of ten and every competitor in the British Cycling Track Team won a medal.
The marginal gains approach looks for small improvements in everything that plays a part in the overall aim. The belief being that the cumulative effect of all these small improvements produces a massive overall improvement. It is implied that these gains are multiplicative rather than additive (think valuations where 1 + i is compounded to account for the belief that risk grows geometrically over time rather than arithmetically (http://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/06/geometricmean.asp). As such, with a discount rate of 10%, the discount factor in the second year/period would be (1 + i)2 or (1 + i) * (1 + i), making it multiplicative (1 + .21) rather than additive (1 + .20).
So how does that translate to those of us in the early stages of our career? Well maybe we need to stop placing so much effort on the the one big thing that will transform your career success. It’s true that some factors can be the key to unlocking progress but following the Olympic tried and tested method, it seems likely that real change occurs as a result of a series of marginal gains across the board. Just as nutrition is not the answer to cycling; nor is work experience, networking, commitment, involvement and extracurricular activities the answer to getting you that interview or promotion. They do however amount to some of the many things you have to endlessly work on improving. Keep making small adjustments in how you address these things until you get the improvement you want.
So with the Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (Faster, Higher, Stronger) still fresh in our heads.
It strikes me there is quite a lot we can learn, but only if we abandon short term thinking. Team GB had a four, if not eight year plan. We therefore need to play the long game and inevitable along the way our plan will fail. However, if we keep improving our performance and building on the relationships we make on the way, we can incremental build on the knowledge we have gained.
Whatever happens though don’t forget to maintain a good work-life balance. If your not happy it will have a knock on effect on your work ethic and drive.
“Nothing is too big an achievement.” Laura Trott. Quadruple Olympic gold medal champion, twelve time World champion, 10 time European champion and a Commonwealth Games champion.