In 80 days from now, athletes from 171 different countries will be in the UK to compete in front of a global audience at the London 2012 Olympic Games. I’m not the biggest sports fan you’ll ever meet, but I find the Games utterly awe inspiring. To be an Olympian requires a level of commitment, focus and drive unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. They devote their lives to training their body and mind, perfecting their skill and ability, and maintaining a phenomenal level of physical fitness.
I don’t have any aspirations to enter into the Games myself — several years of long distance running has left me with back pain and a bill from the chiropractor that is as long as my right leg, thank-you-very-much. There are however Olympic traits that speak to discipline, rigor and focus that I would like to adopt.
Here are some thoughts, about what a digital strategist has to learn from an Olympic Athlete:
BEGIN WITH AN END IN MIND
Most people I know work hard. Many of them enjoy what they do, are committed to doing it well and generally strive for success in their lives. The challenge they face, is that they don’t know what success looks like, they can’t write it down, or speak it, they’ll just know it when they feel it. For an Olympian, the greatest success to be had, is a gold medal. They know it, they can articulate it, and therefore they can focus on it.
Whether your goal is short term, or long term, you need to be able to identify and articulate what it is. At Undercurrent we’ve begun to share a single weekly goal with each other first thing on a Monday morning. The goal needs to be something achievable and actionable. Then the following Monday we tell the rest of the team whether we achieved it or not. Writing it on a sticky note and placing it on a board forces us to write a short, succinct summary of what we plan to achieve.
Everybody should try this out. Not just on a weekly basis, but also daily, monthly and annually. New Year’s resolutions should become less about what you aim to give up, and more about what you’d like to achieve over the course of the year. The exercise is simple but it can be challenging: identify a goal, write it down and set a deadline, ensuring it’s clearly written in a way that you can definitively say you did or did not do (hint: be realistic).
DESIGN A PLAN
For Olympians the first hurdle (excuse the pun) is to decide whether they’re going to enter. The second is figuring out how to get there. Every athlete has a plan that is designed with respect to conditions and constraints (e.g. how much time there is and their individual fitness level), and aims to make the individual stronger, fitter, and ultimately get them closer to their goal: a gold medal.
Not many people have a plan for their careers. If they do it’s rarely fleshed out to the level of detail outlined in a fitness plan. People seldom identify the suite of skills they need to acquire, refine or sharpen, the means in which to get them, or the time it’s likely to take. At Undercurrent we’ve been collectively working on a Skills & Capabilities Maturity Matrix that is designed to help strategists become gold medal winners (if only there were an Olympic event for us). With the support of the Matrix, every strategist at Undercurrent has the ability to design their own bespoke training plan.
Anyone can do this. Once you’ve identified your goal, whether it’s to have the best flow of all your rapper friends, or swimming as far as you can under-water, you need to figure out what skills and capabilities you’re going to need to improve upon. Then how you’re going to improve them and how much time it’s going to take.
FOCUS, LIKE NOTHING ELSE MATTERS
I recently re-watched a video that was popular last year, called ‘How Bad Do You Want It?’. It’s a motivational video that is reminiscent of something you’d expect to see from Nike (short, emotive vignette of a footballer in training). The message is that you’ll achieve success when you want it as much as you need to breathe. It has to matter more than anything else.
Our Olympian friends want it pretty bad. Every waking moment, every meal, every decision for four years is geared towards achieving their goal. It’s not a job that they show up to at 9am, do some training and leave around 5pm. It’s a lifestyle choice. Their meals are carefully planned to provide their body with the right type of nutrition. They ensure they get enough sleep and rest to allow their muscles to recover. They invest in the right tools and gain access to the appropriate resources.
At Undercurrent, our Operations and Management teams have come up with a lot of ways to ensure we’re able to focus on being the best we can be. From flexible working hours, to scrapping the vacation policy and supplying us with healthy, nutritious food. They’re committed to ensuring we can focus. Our space is even designed to align with and facilitate the types of activities we undertake. Our responsibility as strategists, is to use these things to our advantage of these things to do the best job we can do.
Once you’ve got your plan in place, commit to it. Focus on it. Create a way of living that supports it. Look for feedback loops or markers that demonstrate the progress you’re making. Then feed all your positive (and negative) energy into fueling what you’re doing.
Mediocrity is not good enough for many of us. We want better. We want to be better. Getting better isn’t easy, but it’s a simple equation that works for Olympians and mere mortals alike. First identify what better is, what you goal is. Second figure out how to get there. And finally, work as hard as you can to make it a reality. Whether your goal is something you want to achieve in a week, or a long life ambition, if you understand what it is, design a plan to get there and work really really hard, eventually you will.