Push on. Be strong. Be as good as you can be. That’s a good legacy to leave. — Usain Bolt, upon retiring from athletics
Usain Bolt, Jamaican sprint champion, will run no more. After winning double gold medals in three consecutive Olympics, he retired from athletics on the last day of the World Championships in London this week. Bolt is a living legend, a role model whose career as an athlete has much to teach.
What does it have to say about good business practice? Quite a lot, actually. Companies are generally at their fleet-footed best from start-up to around the 10-year mark. In a typical start-up, this period is usually characterised by high energy levels and equally high anxiety levels, with healthy optimism and the ability to make decisions on the hop thrown into the heady mix.
The start up can be compared to the young human body. Our bodies are at their physical best at around, say, the mid-20s. This is when we have all the energy in the world, just like Usain Bolt. We are young, willing to take chances and make quick decisions—some good, others not so much.
It is impossible to forget seeing Bolt, in the prime of his life, sprint to victory. But aged 30, Bolt’s body is slowing down and his focus has to change. Something similar happens when companies approach the age of 10, the business equivalent of Bolt’s 30 years. But what they might lose in physical stamina, they surely make up for in depth of experience, for one. How do companies’ areas of focus change? A few scenarios are possible, but two stand out.
On the one hand, you have the Navel-gazer. The Navel-gazer is growing older comfortably and has little appetite for change. What characterises the Navel-gazer is a tendency to be internally focused to the point of placing comfort and self-satisfaction ahead of customer. The Navel-gazer had better watch the waistline, because it is in danger of spreading to the point of becoming an amorphous mass of lard that is unable to adapt to changing times, technologies and human resources needs.
The Johnny Depp of the 1990s springs to mind. In his heyday, this actor routinely impressed with his performances in challenging roles, while women (and more than a few men) swooned at the very thought or sight of him. He sat so comfortably at the top of his game that it all seemed effortless. But today’s Depp has allowed the years to creep into his waistline, and that once chiselled jawline is now more ample than angular. He’s become so stuck in the character of Captain Jack Sparrow that he seems to be channelling him even in everyday life—no nimble-fingered Scissorhands snipping away here!
In the second scenario, you have the Let’s Mover. Mature yet agile, constantly busy and curious about new developments, ready to invent and reinvent themselves. The Let’s Mover is constantly on the lookout for new talent and ways of doing things. While not forgetting the lessons of their past, holding on to stability and staying true to their values, they do not shy away from change—in fact, they embrace it. (You will usually find them among the early adopters of new technologies.)
Someone who exemplifies the Let’s Mover is former US First Lady Michelle Obama. In fact, she is responsible for the metaphor. Let’s Move is an initiative she started to try to reverse the trend of childhood obesity in the US.
Only one year younger than Depp (they’re both in their 50s), Obama is fit and always on the move. She is in excellent shape mentally and physically. She stays true to traditional values, but is a frontrunner when it comes to initiative and getting the best out of herself and those around her. She has joie de vivre and executes her duties seamlessly and with poise.
It is safe to say that it’s not all smooth sailing for the Let’s Mover, but by their very nature, they will investigate new ways of doing things if the old ways no longer serve them well. And they will not give up. They will try and try again. And again.
It will be interesting to see where Bolt directs his focus next. This is the dangerous stage of his life when the Let’s Mover (and can he move!) crosses paths with the Navel-gazer. Something tells me Bolt is not going to sit around and gaze into mid-distance.
View the previous nlighten blog by Nathalie Schooling: Ask not what your company can do for you
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