Secret Marketer: Learn from the Olympics and work on your strengths, not weaknesses

Great Britain’s record Olympic gold medal tally shows that success comes from concentrating on what you’re good at and becoming even better, not pushing people to be something they’re not while rewarding excellence with apathy.

The Olympics are over, with the best ever medal haul for Great Britain. Euro 2016 is a distant memory with different associations depending on whether you are Welsh or were supporting the Three Lions – or for that matter, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

Studying success in other realms is always very interesting. One of the things that this summer of sport started me thinking was: what are the elements that are essential to winning? In the case of the British gymnastics team, what turns them from also-rans to world beaters? What are the principles, the ideas and the mindsets that can be applied to any organisation?

The lessons that come through from the Olympics are – surprise, surprise – work on the thing that are you already very good, set objectives and get the best coaches to make you even better.

READ MORE: Helen Tupper: Coaching teams makes them more likely to succeed than judging them

Sounds pretty easy, huh? However, this has not this been my experience. ‘Must try harder’ was written on my school report card a lot more than I would like to admit – not surprisingly, given school rewards rote learning and the ‘three Rs’ of reading, writing and arithmetic. The stuff that I was good at never got a look in. What’s worse is that I am pretty sure that I have followed through with the exact opposite of the Olympian way of thinking with many of my teams, encouraging them to work on their weaknesses.

Overcoming weaknesses is a significant part of the fabric of our business culture. Triumph over adversity and all that. The fixation on deficits affect us all. We focus on the lowest marks in school and say they deserve the most time and attention. From the cradle to the office cubicle, we spend more time working on our weaknesses, not on our strengths. Even more interesting is that the media celebrate those who triumph over their lack of natural ability. The ‘triumph over adversity’ story creates a lot more column inches than those who capitalise on their innate talents, and make it happen.

For marketers, the lesson from Olympics is to forget the path of most resistance. Erase the idea that we should do training to help us become who we are not. For marketing leaders, we need to be alert to the moment when we reward excellence with apathy, instead of investing more in the area where our teams have even more potential for excellence. Let’s focus on building on what we are already good at, and put our energy into developing our natural talents.



There are 3 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Justin Lines 25 Aug 2016

    I think this argument really holds true.

    If you look at the greats of the Music & Business worlds, often they were people with unimaginable talents and unforgivable flaws.

  2. Steve Brownett-Gale 26 Aug 2016

    While I do agree that we should spend more time building on our strengths, I think a key point has been missed. Sports stars and performers can focus on their talent and be world beaters, to the detriment of other skills and behaviours. In a work environment, very few could achieve success simply due to their talent; in the majority of cases, we have to achieve by working with others, and if a talented individual’s weakness is in their soft skills, then they won’t be remembered for their talent but as the arrogant person no-one wants to work with or the person who can’t hit deadlines.

    Work life would be a lot more difficult if we all didn’t work on our weaknesses as well.

  3. Samuel Joy 1 Sep 2016

    Hi Dave, the author originally attached to the article was actually the person who uploaded it to Marketing Week, not the Secret Marketer him/herself. Sorry for the mix up. Regards, MW

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