I am sure I am not the only one that is already suffering from Olympics withdrawal. Once again, despite the dire predictions of riots, shootings, pollution and corruption, a magnificent games was pulled out of the bag (especially if you happen to be British). True there were empty seats in some stadiums and no-one stayed in the sea any longer than they had to, but all in all the games were a big success.
From a British point of view the games was almost ridiculously successful. Not only did we give the Chinese a poke in the eye, we also won in a wider variety of sports than any other nation competing. It is easy to get swept up in the hysteria. If you listen to the commentators this result came as a huge surprise but was it really quite so unexpected? Over the last 20 years over £4 billion has been invested in improving our sporting outcomes with a substantial amount being very focused on the Olympics. At that kind of level of investment we should expect a good return. Since 1997 – the year after the Atlanta games in which we won a single, paltry gold medal – a huge amount of time, money and expertise has gone into identifying and nurturing talent and finding ways to improve performance.
From my perspective the success of the Rio and London games that preceded them came down to three things – focus, dedication and innovation.
After yet another successful couple of weeks in the velodrome questions are being asked by competitors about how we managed to do so well when just a few months ago we appeared to be struggling. The answer is that there is a laser like focus on the Olympics and if that means choosing to peak at the Olympics over the World Championships then so be it.
When it comes to dedication the commitment shown by the athletes has been second to none but it is also about the dedication to improvement. Again this is particularly illustrated by the cycling team. Their philosophy of constant, tiny improvements across the board as reaped huge rewards. The coaches and technicians are constantly looking for at what else can be done to shave fragments of seconds off the clock. From changing the density and weave of the cycling skin suits at different points on the body to improve air flow to analyzing exactly what percentage of the tyre should be contact with the ground at any one time to reduce friction, the search for improvements is relentless.
When we talk about innovation we are not just talking about kit development. Something that has really marked out Team GB’s approach is the way they have cross fertilized from different sports. This idea of Team GB as a single team, not just for the Olympics themselves, but in the years between them too, has ensured that sports have been able to benefit from each other.
There are learnings for us all to take away from this. The first is that however miraculous something might appear there is usually a whole heap of work that will have gone into it. It is something the English football set up would do well to learn. The structure that now supports our athletes is designed to deliver time and time again. It is not focused on one event but many. The objective might be Olympic medals but the programme is not built to deliver success at a single Olympics but to at games ongoing. People expressed surprise that we managed to surpass our London medals total but, although home advantage is considerable, the structure is built on continuous improvement, for each games to be better than the last.
Another critical lesson here is around the constant need for new ideas and new talent. Although there were some familiar faces from the London Olympics there were also a whole host of new faces – new blood that will deliver tomorrow’s successes. When you have success, finding new talent is perhaps the easy bit in the sporting world. Our winning hockey players will inspire thousands of youngsters to try their hand with a hockey stick and people like Nicola Adams break new ground, showcasing sports that perhaps many wouldn’t consider. In the business world it is important that we hold up our own heroes and use them as examples of what can be achieved so others see what is possible.
Finally there is also the lesson that equestrian Nick Skelton taught us all and that is that you should never give up on a dream because you are never too old to achieve it. In a world in which it seems entrepreneurs are getting younger and younger it is easy to feel left behind, but experience remains a hugely valuable (if currently somewhat underrated) asset and brilliance is not confined to the young. You are never to old to make a difference.
3 key Olympic lessons for CIOs
1. Cycling adopts a lean approach to delivering improvements, breaking down the overall programme into small components and continually iterating to improve and innovate
2. Technology is all about continuos innovation, your are never finished, hence why big programmes do not work, but pooling and sharing knowledge and ideas across small teams does…
3. All about talent….people finding and developing….you need to develop your own talent as there is not enough to go around and a great culture to work in