Business Lessons from the Sochi Olympics

Ten Gold-Medal Lessons from the 2014 Sochi Olympics

"Elite sports is a powerful metaphor for business, and there are some striking parallels," according to sports psychologist Graham Jones. "Fierce competition, winning by sometimes the smallest margins, achieving goals and targets, establishing long-term and short-term strategies and tactics, hard work, perseverance, determination, teamwork, dealing with success and recovering from failure and setbacks... those are all key challenges in both worlds."

The Sochi Olympics gave us examples of how great athletes achieved success; examples that can be applied to running a business as well. Take a look below for ten examples you can use to prepare yourself for success.

1. Find your passion

Olympic athletes would never endure grueling practices day after day, or play on through injuries and disappointments, if they weren't fueled by a passion to win. The most successful entrepreneurs have a passion for what they do, believe that they'll succeed, and exhibit that enthusiasm to employees and customers alike. Running a business takes commitment and hard work, just like competing in sports, but it's passion that makes it all worthwhile.

2. Set measurable goals

Every athlete in the Olympic games was driven to accomplish a goal, whether it was beating a predetermined time in a race or achieving the highest score from ice skating judges. These targets were measurable and had to be achieved in a definite timeframe. Having a goal or a fixed deadline is important in business as well. Successful business people set short-term and long-term goals, measure their progress along the way, and set new goals as soon as the old ones are accomplished.

3. Develop laser focus

As the saying goes, "Keep your eyes on the prize." Focus is essential for success in both sports and business. Olympic athletes concentrate on their sport single-mindedly for years, giving up other opportunities to focus on what they really wanted most. Once you've set a goal for your business, give it your all. As you start each business day, ask yourself what you can do that day to get closer to your goal, and refuse to be distracted by unimportant tasks.

4. Discipline yourself to practice

As youngsters, future Olympians got up early to practice before school, stayed after school to practice some more, and spent weekends and holidays practicing when their friends were relaxing. As a result of their hard work and determination, they achieved their goal of going to the Olympics. What should you be practicing every day in order to be your best? Salesmanship, management skills, professional expertise? Whatever it may be, never stop learning and practicing if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

5. Reach for more

The most successful athletes compete not only against others, but against themselves, trying to improve on their personal best whenever they perform. Even a gold medal winner or world record holder hopes to do better next time. By improving a little more each day, over time they become the best. If your business is making money and you don't have major problems, you may fall into the habit of accepting "good enough" instead of looking for ways to improve. Set stretch goals and see if you can achieve a new personal best for your company.

6. Find a mentor

Olympic athletes depend heavily on their coaches for training, guidance, and encouragement. Business people need mentors to fill the same role. Find a person in your field who has qualities you admire, or who has experience you could learn from. See if they would agree to mentor you, even if it’s just meeting for coffee occasionally so you can bounce ideas off them. Gain from their perspective and take their opinions under advisement.

7. Take risks to win

The gold medal often goes to the competitor who is willing to risk it all. In the Sochi Olympics, Sage Kotsenburg won gold in snowboarding slopestyle with a risky move he'd never tried before, which had him rotating 4 times and grabbing the board behind his back. Just as figure skaters get "difficulty points" for performing spectacular jumps, you may find that it pays off to take chances to reach your goals, whether it's taking your marketing in a whole new direction, betting on a new product line, or opening another location.

8. Develop a pre-game ritual

The best competitors develop a pre-game ritual to put them in the proper state of mind so they are ready and focused when they receive the "Go" signal. At the Sochi Olympics, some listened to music over headphones, some had their heads down and mentally rehearsed their moves, while others seemed to be giving themselves a pep talk. Find a ritual that works for you. Maybe it's reviewing your goal sheet, reading a few minutes in an inspirational book, or listening to lively music while driving to work. Whatever it is, practice it every morning before you start your work day.

9. Learn the value of competition

When you get frustrated having to compete with other companies for customers or contracts, it may help to remember that Olympic athletes perform their best when competing against others who are also the best in their field. Healthy competition can bring out your best by forcing you to play your A-game, operate efficiently, and think outside the box.

10. Don't let a fall keep you down

No matter what business you are in, you'll eventually experience some hard times - a financial crisis, betrayal by a trusted partner, a mistake that costs you a valued client. During the short program in figure skating, Olympian Jeremy Abbott not only fell on his hip when trying a difficult jump, but slammed into the boards. He got back up, finished in third place, and told an interviewer afterward that he hoped his experience would inspire others not to give up.

The Sochi Winter Olympics are in the past, but if you apply the lessons learned from them and let them influence your decision-making, you may achieve "gold" in your business.