What Olympic Athletes Can Learn From Entrepreneurs (& Vice Versa)
As the world remains enthralled by the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, I am reminded of the unique makeup and character traits that distinguish Olympians from fellow athletes and drive them to achieve greatness. I am enjoying the Olympic Games along with billions of others, inspired by the herculean efforts of amazingly dedicated athletes from all over the world. As we watch their triumphs unfold I am particularly keen on learning more about the personal stories that define these incredible athletes. Despite all the odds, theirs is a story of perseverance, dedication and a larger-than-life mindset.
Now, I am no athlete. Anybody who knows me will tell you that. But I am an entrepreneur, and it occurs to me that the traits that make an Olympian outstanding are the same ones that define today’s world-class entrepreneurs.
Similarly, I am confident that athletes that have reached the top of their game will relate to my 10 secrets of entrepreneurial success. For example, you must 1) be passionate about what you are trying to achieve, 2) focus intently on the mission, 3) follow your gut instincts, 4) listen to your inner voice, and 5) simplify your objectives. It also doesn’t hurt to, 6) surround yourself with smart people, and 7) put in the hard work that you know it will take to reach your goal.
Some great athletes have transitioned into business and gone on to become tremendous entrepreneurs, for example, Venus and Serena Williams, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and Roger Staubach. Why is it that most great athletes have failed to become great entrepreneurs?
What separates sports from entrepreneurism, however, is that in business we constantly have to overcome undefined and unpredictable challenges. Athletes train for specific events and conditions, whereas entrepreneurs generally have little idea what they will encounter along the way.
For example, basketball players train to shoot the ball into a hoop that is exactly 10-feet high and 18 inches in diameter. In the 110-meter men’s hurdles competition, athletes train to make their first hurdle 45 feet from the starting line, a subsequent series of hurdles every 30 feet and then a final open stretch of 46 feet to the finish line. These goals are clearly defined and rigidly adhered to throughout the world of sports.
Entrepreneurs face a much different challenge on their road to success. For us, the goal keeps moving and the hurdles come in all shapes and sizes at varying intervals. Because the barriers to a successful business can be much more complex and often difficult, perhaps the International Olympic Committee should consider adding some other sports to the roster that will better harness these athletes’ drive, ambition and focus and translate their success in sports to lasting accomplishments as an entrepreneur.
Have you heard of Tough Mudder, the self-described “toughest event on the planet”? These hardcore 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses were designed by the British Special Forces to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie. This event, which has raised almost $3.5 million for the Wounded Warrior Project, would be a perfect trial for aspiring entrepreneurs. I’m obviously joking a bit, but can you imagine the scene that would unfold if we filled one of those muddy courses with small-business owners and CEOs? The ratings would pale in comparison to the Olympic Games, but it would be quite a spectacle indeed.
Most of us are neither athletes nor entrepreneurs, but as the Olympic spirit takes hold and propels our competitive spirits and national pride, we should reflect on the special skills and training that serve as the foundation for excellence. Please join me as I look closer at the commonalities that the world’s greatest athletes share and offer insights for how these skills can drive you to entrepreneurial greatness. Follow me on twitter to read my observations on the Olympics and share my passion for the entrepreneurial spirit.
NAVEEN JAIN | Columnist | Founder and CEO of inome
Naveen Jain is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and technology pioneer. He is the founder of World Innovation Institute, Moon Express, inome, and InfoSpace.