I was absolutely blown away by the winter Olympics men’s slopestyle event this past weekend when American Sage Kotsenberg secured a gold medal. As a middle-aged snowboarder, I was certainly very impressed with the daring moves, flips, and speed displayed by all of the competitors. But what really impressed me was the attitude of the victor.
Sage didn’t expect to win a gold medal. He was just there to compete in an event he truly loves and as a result, he unleashed his raw talent. Sage didn’t care about expectations, the media, international politics, endorsements, or the competition. He simply let his gifts speak for themselves. This made me think about how we in business have a tendency to drift away from our essence and begin to focus more on results rather than on those basic emotional elements that can help get us there. How does a business nurture the unadulterated spirit displayed in the Olympics to drive success in the future?
The slopestyle competitors are an anomaly to what one typically thinks of as the definition of an Olympic athlete. They wear baggy clothing with hoods flapping in the wake of their descent, and sport long hair and several days of beard growth. These guys look more like rock stars than Olympians. Their mannerisms, vocabulary, and general attitude are anything but the sterling demeanor we've come to expect of Olympic athletes.
When you contrast the style of the boarders to other sports in the winter Olympics, the differences are amazing. Alpine skiing, bobsledding, and speed skating are consumed with aerodynamics where the suits, helmets, and equipment are designed for maximum speed. Figure skating is obsessed with beauty and performance and has a strict set of rules guiding the performers. Even curling has become fanatical with physical fitness, and participants spend more time in the gym working out than on the ice.
The pursuit of excellence as is typified by the conventional Olympic sports event is the same attitude that dominates American industry. We become passionate about selecting the right team and equipping them with the finest in support. Leading businesses dedicate millions to training and development of talent. Then we install bonus systems to reward positive behavior and dismiss people who are not following the correct path. Earnings per share, trending stock price, and profitability are goals that are tattooed onto our psyche. Nothing else really matters…or does it?
I would submit that in this day and age, it is the outliers like the Sage Kotsenbergs who will determine the truly successful businesses of the future. Slogging towards boring financial goals will yield lackluster results. What really matters is that spirit that got you excited about the business in the beginning. How do you capture the soul of your business? We need to look at our businesses with a renewed clarity so this latent energy can be released. We need to soar like Sage, doing what we love.
Take Re-View for example. Our company recently made a couple changes that are radical departures from our defined path. First we exited a line of business that had been part of the company for 21 years because it no longer fit out current direction. This division was engaged in promoting daylighting products such as skylights and tubular daylight devices. Over the past two decades our company has exploded into the historic window business. Our daylighting efforts really didn't fit with our passion for historic windows; it seemed to drag our energy down and interfere with our efforts to be truly successful in the preservation field. What was once a primary business line was now blurring our focus. It had to go
We also began to pursue the crazy idea of manufacturing specialty wood items with waste from our manufacturing processes. We have a great deal of exotic wood waste from the manufacturing of our historic windows. The amount of this unusable material has grown beyond our ability to give it away. So our brilliant woodworkers came up with designs for quilt racks, chopping boards, stools, and pizza peels. I have no idea whether this venture will have a positive economic result, but it sure does fit nicely with our passion to create beauty with wood.
So what are the crazy ideas that strike at the essence of your company? The time is right to jump in and pursue a wild thought. In addition to energizing your team, a return to your core principles might generate very positive returns. It is time to follow the wise Sage and get stoked about our businesses.
Come on dudes, let’s get gnarly and create some sick results! Let me hear from you.