I've never been on skis. Or a snowboard. I have been ice-skating and, while I can manage not to hold on to anything, I'm not exactly graceful, or fast. Oh, and I don't like the cold. Despite all that, I've been fascinated by this year's Winter Olympics, held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. I've been amazed by the acrobatic feats of the snowboarders, entranced by the speed of the skis and skaters, and bemused by some of the strange equipment people use to slide their way down icy tracks. All well and good, but why am I writing about this on a business blog? Well, I think we can learn some lessons from the Olympians.
One thing is clear from all the athletes competing at the winter games - their motivation is second to none. They train for years for this one moment, putting all their focus on improving their performance to be at their peak at the right time. Our day jobs might not give us the same concentration on one big event, but we can learn from the hard work and motivation of the Olympians. That doesn't mean we all have to work harder. But we could all benefit from a focus on working smarter, putting the effort into where it's most needed.
2. Risk taking
One sport that really caught my attention was the snowboard and ski cross racing. For those who haven't seen it, it consists of four competitors - on skis or snowboards - racing against each other down a course full of bends, bumps and jumps. And it's a surprise if everyone manages to stay upright. Now, I'm not really the competitive type, and certainly wouldn't advocate the pushing and shoving that seems to be a part of the race. But there is something to learn about taking more risks, and understanding when to stop. I think we're all guilty of working within our 'comfort zone', at least from time to time. There is no comfort zone in ski cross. And it's all the more interesting because of it.
The Olympics is always full of stories of athletes working against the odds to get to the games. That might be recovering from injury, or finding ways to raise money to support training. What I found most interesting at this winter games was how resilience played a part in who ultimately succeeded. Some let the pressure of the occasion get to them, and even clear favourites who'd easily won at other major events couldn't compete effectively. Others seemed to use the adrenalin to push them further, even when it seemed unlikely that they could perform at their best. What can we learn? Perseverance pays off. And finding a way that helps you deal with stress is essential.
4. Research and reflection
A lot of the events at the Winter Olympics could seem more like cool hobbies than professional sports. But what surprised me was how much each athlete seemed to know about their sport. They studied competitors, and were keen to look back at their own performance, and use their research to inform their next attempt. This was most striking in the snowboarding Big Air men's final. On his final jump, the silver medal winner tried an even bigger trick than before. Unfortunately, he didn't manage to land it, leaving him in second place. And even though a medal was pretty much assured, he asked straight away to see a replay, to see where he'd gone wrong. Putting your research to work, and reflecting on your performance, can help us all to improve.
Last but not least, creativity played a greater role in the winter Olympics that in other sporting event I've watched. As well as seeming to defy gravity, the twisting and turning of the snowboard and ski jumpers demanded individual flair as well as technical mastery. And those who let their personality shine through did better overall than those who left it at the start line. A final important lesson to take into the workplace!
Most of us won't ever reach Olympic glory. But, as we marvel at their achievements, we can also learn some useful tips to apply to our own workplace. Bring on the halfpipe!