Business and sports share many common features. The familiar “born or made” debate resonates for both Olympians and entrepreneurs. There are also unyielding obstacles despite talent or skill: a 5ft tall player will not make the NBA Basketball team.
Undoubtedly, an Olympian’s mindset is very different from that of a casual afternoon jogger. Not only do they both want very different outcomes – winning an Olympic medal versus exercise or weight loss – but it is reflected in their mindsets which drive their decisions and actions. One is hungry for ultimate success and remains fixated, maybe even obsessed, on being the absolute best and continues to train and show up for practice, day-in, day-out, sore muscles be damned. The other can opt out of afternoon jogging without pangs of guilt, if the weather is not conducive or some other activity takes precedence.
So too, entrepreneurs differ from a casual hobbyist who may dabble in an occasional commercial transaction at a craft market. An entrepreneur’s mindset and motivators are very different from that of a “wantpreneur,” and allow passion and perseverance to persist.
In the spirit of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the lens of sports rebounds with metaphors and lessons which can be applied in gaining a competitive edge in entrepreneurship:
Like the 400 meter individual medley, a combination of four different swimming styles – butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle – swum by one swimmer, a quadrathlon is an endurance multisport with four sports in one. It consists of swimming, kayaking, cycling and running and requires an insane amount of endurance, power, technique and skill to ably compete at a world class level. It also requires a combination of muscles stretched beyond the 100-meter dash or an Olympic marathon.
In business, start-up founders must be able to wear multiple hats and understand all aspects of the start-up’s operations for it to function smoothly. Even when competitors may be seemingly edging ahead from the pack, carefully managing pace for the long haul is crucial, one step at a time despite encroaching muscle fatigue.
Practise, Practise, Practise and more Practise! At the 2012 Summer Olympics, Gabrielle (Gabby) Douglas scored a historic victory in becoming the first African American to win gold in the individual all-round event. She also won a team gold medal for the U.S. at the same Summer Olympic event. Her formal gymnastics training began at 6 years old and at age 16, with an insatiable hunger for success, Gabby went from underdog to Olympian. On the road to Rio Olympics, she has worked on a new vault and new beam and floor routines. Her muscles are stronger.
In business, you cannot build muscles if someone else does the workout. An entrepreneur begins to forge a competitive advantage through practise, sacrifice, hard knocks and hard work. At age 14, when Gabby moved away from her hometown and family to pursue training with a world-renowned Olympic trainer, she was aligning herself to be trained by among the best in her field. By staying fully committed to getting better and showing up on time, comfort zones expanded and mental barriers injecting self-doubt began to chip away. The strongest performers harness a clear stillness of mind despite the distraction and noise of the sport arena or business landscape.
4X100 Meter Relay Race
Relay is a team sport, and success in the 4 X 100 meter relay race balances proper techniques with strategy. It is as much a skill event (fine-tuned through practice drills) as a speed event (timing the exchange). A strong relay team will also have trained substitutes, to fill any spot in the relay should a runner be injured, and preferably one who is trained to receive the baton in the right hand, and one who is trained to receive it in the left.
The business of entrepreneurship is a team activity. Even if there is a single founder or two or three co-founders, a company’s net worth is also determined by the strength of its network, measured in dollars and sense (knowledge and skills). A team of advisors, mentors and employees are at the nucleus of a network of:
Supply chain partners: to buffer against disruptions in the supply of raw materials
Freelancers: to enable a business to provide on-demand services, ramping up or scaling down operations relatively quickly
Specialists: to provide deep functional expertise in particular functions
Generalists: to apply knowledge and aptitudes to a variety of different fields
Timing and team composition (network) are key differentiators in enabling a relatively decent product / service platform to outperform a competing product / service.
A bad choice of a co-founder or a member of your team may (and probably will) bury your business in a matter of months. Just like the 4 X 100 meter relay, despite best efforts, one member of a small team who does not pull his weight will drag down all others.
Entrepreneurs find solutions and implement them. In so doing, we help design a world of change. At CARIRI’s signature Business Hatchery Programme, we support and energize early-stage entrepreneurs to grow their business, through group training and customized individual business coaching. Our Business Hatchery Food and Beverage Programme (5 weeks duration) will launch on 3 September 2016.