The lottery of sporting months is rapidly approaching. Something that only happens once every four years. It’s like a super moon and a full lunar eclipse happening at the same time.
We get the NFL’s championship game (which we can’t mention by its colloquial name for trademark protection reasons, but you know what we mean), immediately followed by the Winter Olympics.
Sure, the NFL plays its championship game every year, but it coinciding with the winter Olympics? That only happens once every four years. And it’s glorious. We move right from one into the other a single week later. I, for one, can’t wait. But in thinking about both unique and riveting sporting events, it got me thinking about how they’re similar and what they can teach us about life and business.
Turns out, the answer to both questions is: a lot.
The Olympics is the highest honor for almost every sport — certainly so for all the individual sports. For most individual sports, there really isn’t a professional circuit the way there is for team sports like football or basketball. Sure, there’s World Championships or the X Games every year, but those aren’t nearly as widely watched, recognized or lauded as the Olympics. Athletes spend decades getting to the point where they can qualify, and then get just one chance to prove they’re the best.
You could win every Super G skiing event in the world for four straight years, choke at the Olympics, and it’s a long, long four years of waiting, training and ruminating over your failures before you can try and qualify again… only to face the same daunting odds as you did the first time (except you might be a little older, a little slower and possibly out of your prime).
That’s pretty intimidating as a competitor, regardless of how fearless you may otherwise be.
The NFL’s odds can seem just as steep. While the Patriots skew the argument I’m making given how often they go to the big game, the point still holds in a larger sense. My Cowboys were perennial powerhouses in the 90s — near constant contenders in each championship game.
Then? Savage mediocrity for 20+ years. It’s hard to get to the big game, much less to win it. It takes years of coaches, quarterbacks, skill players training, practicing, learning their craft to put together a winning gameplan and effort to go all the way.
And if you screw the pooch? It could be decades before you make it back as a franchise; and your players may never taste the ultimate glory for themselves… ever.
To be a champion at either the Olympics or in the NFL requires years and years of practice, training, learning and honing one’s craft to stand a chance on the biggest stage. You have to be mentally ferocious with focus beyond measure. You have to take care of your body and mind at all times and center your life around your given athletic pursuit. And only when all those things line up together can the ultimate prize be obtained.
Believe it or not, the same is true of business. You don’t stumble into a great idea, execute it flawlessly and retire at 25, wealthy and fulfilled, to a life of philanthropy. Sure, you can have a world-changing idea at 24, but it takes years to get the execution right. You’ll fail far more times than you’ll succeed in said execution even if the idea is indeed a winner. You’ll hire the wrong people to help shepherd the vision to success and have to start over. And once the idea is in the world, it most certainly will not work 100% accurately, successfully and efficiently 100% of the time. You won’t weather every PR snafu without incident. It’s just too hard to get everything right all the time. Olympians certainly don’t, and NFL teams rarely do (especially if you’re my Cowboys). They train for decades to put themselves into position to perform their best. And when it comes together? Bliss.
Again, that’s the ultimate goal for a business. Not to get it right all the time. Not to never fail in the history of your enterprise. The goal is to train hard through those failures, learn from them, get better and hone your craft to the point where you can perform at the highest level when it matters most. You won’t get it right every time, but you can deliver when it matters most.
That’s what we should be aiming for as businesses. Constant perfection is unobtainable. But delivering on the biggest stage, when it matters most — that we can do. With the right idea, team and product, you can win the gold medal of your respective industry. And considering the overwhelming majority of us will never be elite athletes, that’s a pretty great consolation prize.