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Steven Strauss: My favorite part of the Olympics

August 20, 2012

Question:  What is you favorite part of the Olympics? Mine was the diving.

Answer: What if I said, “the shoes”? I’ll explain why in a moment, but let’s first acknowledge that there are all sorts of things that one could take away from the recently concluded Olympic Games:

•    That London really knows how to put on a great show, and
•    There is nothing “amateur” about the Olympics any longer; they are big business.

But whether it was watching Usain Bolt’s speed and ego, or Gabby Douglas’ incredible talent and smile, I must say that watching the Olympics left me, at least from a business perspective, with but one conclusion:

Nike never fails to take full advantage of an opportunity. (But as I said, more on that in a minute.)

In athletics, as in life, as in business, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. As such, it might just behoove us to take a look at what these athletes do and how they do it and take a page out of their book. And because what they do is so remarkable, let’s take a look at how they become remarkable:

Doing what they do best: Almost every one of these athletes started out at a young age with their sport. Then they found they were passionate about it, and also were very good at it, and then they began to put in the time necessary to become great at it.

But it begins with following their passion. So too in business, so too in entrepreneurship. It is hard to imagine becoming a world-class anything unless you really loved that thing.

Putting in 10,000 hours: That these athletes put in an incredible amount of time into preparing for their moment is obvious. In the book Outliers, The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell has this to say:

“To become a chess grandmaster also seems to take about ten years. (Only the legendary Bobby Fisher got to that elite level in less than that amount of time: it took him nine years.) And what’s ten years? Well, it’s roughly how long it takes to put in ten thousand hours of hard practice. Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”

Gladwell argues that to really excel at something – be it sports or chess or business – requires a commitment of that many hours and many years. Certainly we see that in these athletes, and I bet you see that in your business.

Loving the destination, yes, but also the journey: For me, it was difficult to appreciate what Michael Phelps did until I began to watch the other athletes, the ones who were overjoyed at winning a single bronze medal for instance. For them, that is the pinnacle of success in their sport, and rightly so. So what Phelps did is almost otherworldly.

But I think we can also assume that for almost all of these athletes, while winning is great, the journey probably is as well. Sure it is hard work, but we all work hard. And you can only be willing to work that hard if getting there stokes your fire.

Letting the competition raise your game: Needless to say, Olympic athletes compete, not only against themselves, but against the competition. And you don’t get to be the best unless the competition, and your competitive juices, take your game to another level.

Finally, while they were not an Olympic athlete, did anyone have a better Olympics than Nike? Though not an official sponsor, Nike was omnipresent in the London Games, mainly because of those cool, impossible-to-miss neon green shoes the competitors all seemed to be wearing.

As our own USA TODAY says, “Marketing experts are awarding a gold medal  . . . to Nike, which scored with bold commercials, smart PR moves and its distinctive, ubiquitous neon-yellow Volt shoes . . . Said Adam Hanft, CEO of New York-based Hanft Projects, a communications and marketing consultancy, “It’s exactly the kind of guerrilla product insertion that makes marketers smile.””

And that is the final lesson for me from these Games. Don’t miss an opportunity to stand out.

Today’s Tip: Here’s another in my list of great business books that I have run across this summer: Leapfrogging: Harness the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs by Soren Kaplan reveals how surprises – both good and bad – can be powerful catalysts for innovation. Based on the latest brain research, 20 years of innovation experience with top companies, and real world examples, the book identifies a clear process for transforming a surprise into a business breakthrough. Steve says check it out.

Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, writer, and speaker, and is one of the country’s leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Greatland, here, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, here, Follow him on Twitter, here, and Like TheSelfEmployed on Facebook, here. You can e-mail Steve at: © Steven D. Strauss 

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