The opening of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is a great opportunity to think about competition, performance, and creativity. Winter athletes dazzle us with their skill and endurance, and amaze us with their ability to perform under intense pressure. This isn’t the first time I have written about the Olympics, but the debut of a new event this year drew my attention, not just for the astonishing visuals, but for the risks and drama involved. As opposed to the Halfpipe competition that we are familiar with, Slopestyle snowboarding takes place in “Terrain Parks” which are special runs that contain jumps, rails, and other obstacles the boarders use to launch themselves into the air. Slopestyle runs are judged on the difficulty of the tricks being executed, the vertical height achieved, and the overall execution of the run. Athletes can repeat tricks during each run and judges look for consistency as well as degree of difficulty.
Slopestyle has been generating some controversy in the past few weeks. Several top snowboarders have been injured during practice runs and Shaun White, the perennial leader in snowboarding events pulled out of the Slopestyle competition in order to “focus solely on trying to bring home the third straight gold medal in halfpipe…” The news media, however, was focused on the risks involved and have speculated that White withdrew because of concerns about the safety of the course.
All of that is simply a distraction from what is the most important aspect of the Slopestyle competition, namely “What does this mean to entrepreneurs, small business managers, and startup founders!” Today let’s consider these wonderful athletes and this exciting new event in the context that matters to us – here are 5 things we can learn from Slopestyle!
1. Skills. Like managing a business, Slopestyle takes a certain minimum level of skill and competence in order to compete. Snowboarders have to be adept at balance, flight, flexibility, to represent their country in international competition, let alone to be up their on the podium receiving a medal at the end of the process. Entrepreneurs and managers have to understand basics of marketing, finance, logistics, customer psychology, and human resources in order to operate their businesses, let alone compete successfully in their market. Both take practice, the ability to learn from mistakes, and repetition over time to perfect. The takeaway for entrepreneurs is that they need to take the time to develop the requisite skills and then practice and perfect.
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2. Originality. When it comes to startups, we know it is the idea that counts. It needs to be original, it needs to be tested, and it needs to solve a problem or meet a market need. Same with Slopestyle. The athletes performing in this event have to differentiate themselves from the competition and this is done by creating original tricks and moves that no one else can imitate or execute as skillfully. Snowboarders often steal each other’s tricks, but when they do it becomes about who can perform that kicker, stalefish or roast beef to perfection. Businesses, too, do not always have to be launched with a completely original idea, but if a new entrant in an existing market hopes to gain share, they had better make up for the lack of originality with a more perfect execution.
3. Audaciousness. At Sochi this year expect to see the judges give extra points not just for originality, but also for audacity! The more complicated the trick, the more breathtaking the vertical height, the greater the risk will impress the judges greatly. Athletes in the creative individual sports need to get the judges attention and daring, recklessness, and courage tend to have that affect. In startups, the same thing goes: the splashiest, most ambitious new businesses tend to get the greatest attention and grow fastest. Setting bold goals tends to provide a push to the team and result in the best outcomes. Don’t be scared to be audacious, just make sure you are ready to perform!
4. Risk. Hand-in-hand with audaciousness comes risk. Risk comes in many forms for athletes, including the risk of a huge wipeout, an embarrassing fail, or even a life-threatening injury. But without taking those risks, without going for that fakie, or attempting that crazy McTwist, Slopestyle competitors can never receive a score high enough to medal. In business we also take risks, sometimes even “bet the business” gambles that may or may not pay off. We risk failure, we risk careers, we even put the well-being of our families at risk. Risk is inherent to entrepreneurship just as it is to sport.
5. Execution. So. put together the first four items in this post, your skill, your originality, your audacity, and your appetite for risk and what is left is your ability to execute. And not just execute in the send of completing a task, but execute flawlessly under the pressure of competition. Great athletes have to manage the pressure every day and perform a world-class level in order to “stay in business.” Great entrepreneurs also need to execute in the face of competitive pressure, marketing challenges, and team dynamics. A great trick or a fantastic idea for a startup are meaningless unless there is a person or a team who can take that from the conceptual to the concrete and engineer an actual win!
Photo: Alain Carpentier/Wikimedia