At 1.95 m, he was supposedly too tall to race the 100m. The sports science showed it was all wrong. Even the 200m was a stretch. But in less than 10 seconds, Usain Bolt proved the experts wrong again and won the 100m Gold Medal for the third time straight at the Rio Olympics.
Being fastest and first is a goal for many Olympians and it’s a goal that many seek to achieve in their own work or business. There are many times, however, when people tell you it can’t be done.
Here are some of the things they’ll say:
- You’re not the right size, you won’t be able to compete.
- You don’t have the right pedigree, no-one will take you seriously.
- You need more resources and backing behind you, which you’ll never get. Give up.
- You shouldn’t be arrogant. Hold back.
- The experts can show you that it won’t work.
But winners believe that they can succeed, that they can win. Bolt said afterwards that he was confident and did believe he would win. That’s part of the mental and sometimes spiritual battle that winners face. He offered up a very visible prayer and crossed himself before his run. I’m sure there were other runners doing the same in that insanely fast field of athletes. They weren’t saving the world, but their achievements can inspire millions, so it’s worth a prayer.
How You Can Be First and Fastest
My colleague, Stuart Cross, a Strategy Consultant based out of the UK, in his latest book First and Fast: Outpace Your Competitors, notes a similar observation to mine regarding strategy: that many companies spend so long undertaking strategic planning (an oxymoron), that they end up years behind the competition. I’ve observed that this occurs not only with companies, but with
- Executives (We have a 100 page, documented strategic plan [that no-one totally understands] – what more do we need? I’ll wait 12 months to review the performance of my direct reports, or I’ll rate them on a Likert scale. I’ll keep acting the way I did when I was in a junior, technical position and micro-manage other people’s expertise.)
- HR (18 months to determine whether you’ll proceed with a leadership program, really? Believing that the C-Suite is going to take you seriously, when you can’t even make money and/or proactively manage projects and people within your own department?)
- Finance (relying on backwards-looking accounting practices and risk avoidance, while ignoring forward-looking financial systems and approaches)
- Whole industries (witness Taxis vs Uber and Hotels vs AirBNB)
- Leaders in their development and various elements of life (I’m good enough a communicator to get to here, what more do I need? [Trump, anyone?] I’m perfectly capable of independently and objectively assessing my own behaviour, I don’t need anyone else to tell me what I’m like. I’ll wait until my kid blows up on drugs before I decide I should pay him some attention. I’ll wait until I retire to see whether my wife/husband actually wants to spend time with me.)
Despite the fact that Bolt was not your typical 100m runner, he used his individual gifts and talents to achieve phenomenal speed and results over both the 100m and 200m. Watch him run this last Olympic race and you see his technique and his strategy work differently to the rest of the pack. It’s the same with our own individual performance and our businesses: we have to do what will work best for us, not what works best for everyone else.
One of the tacks I take with executives is to examine quickly, almost intuitively, where they are, what field they are competing in, what their strengths (their individual and corporate gifts and talents) are, and what winning will look for them.
We then, quickly, develop the means by which they will utilise those strengths to develop a competitive advantage and achieve their wins. Principles, techniques, approaches are key – not the endless minutiae that are enveloped in so many plans – as well as determining any hurdles to be overcome and risks to be mitigated against.
Instead of months (or years) wasted merely considering where we’re going, we are moving in a renewed direction in a matter of days or just hours. And it’s in a way that we know will bring successes and wins that matter to us as we go. And, like Usain Bolt, we experience a thrill and a joy in our successes – enjoying the run as much as we enjoy the win.
So, in your own race to win, emulate the Bolts of the world – find your own way to winning, believe in it, rely on your sources of inspiration and strength, and go out and have fun tearing up the track.