What business can learn from watching the Australian Open

23rd January, 2017

As you sit in your lounge room watching elite athletes strain every sinew for your entertainment this week, you’re only seeing an outcome – not the work needed to get there.

You’re not seeing all the gym sessions, the training days, the obsession and the analysis used by the best in the world to get where they are.

In much the same way, you may open a newspaper and read about the latest ‘overnight success’ in the business world, not knowing about the years of hard yakka needed to get to that point.

In fact, there are a whole heap of similarities between the best businesspeople and the best athletes.

Is there anything you can learn from the approach both take to their craft?

They are driven and plan for success

Elite athletes know what they want to do, they know when they want to do it, and they are driven towards this singular goal.

They keep this goal in mind when they get up early to hit the gym. They keep it in mind when they’re on the point of physical exhaustion at practice.

It’s this laser-focused obsession which gives them the drive to do the work.

Then they plan exactly how they’re going to get there.

In much the same way, the best business people have a goal in mind, plan on how to achieve it, and attack it with a singular obsession.

…but they also know when to take a break

The best elite athletes know that the human body and mind can only take so much, and rest and recuperate accordingly.

They view nutrition, down-time and rest through the lens of peak performance.

They know that to get the best out of themselves they need to be in peak condition, and plan accordingly.

The best in business also know how to switch off entirely, knowing that rest pays dividends in the future.

They bring in coaches to help them

The best know what they don’t know, and aren’t afraid to admit it.

They know they need an expert outside viewpoint to identify their weaknesses, and bring in a coach to help them turn their weakness into a strength.

In the same way, business leaders know that the timely hire of an outside consultant or business coach can help drive results – if they’re specific about the outcomes they wish to achieve.

They analyse the competition relentlessly, but focus on their own game

Elite athletes study the competition closely, trying to gain an edge.

They analyse an opponent’s forehand to try to see if they have trouble dealing with top-spin, or try to predict where their opponent might place a second serve based on previous patterns.

Sounds a lot like data analysis, doesn’t it?

The best business people are always analysing the competition, poring through business journals, speaking to people in their industry and scanning through financials to try and find a weakness.

Both place much more importance on their own game though. Worrying too much about the opposition means you’re spending less time identifying opportunities for innovation.

They are obsessed with getting the right tools for the job

Athletes are endlessly trying to get the right tools to give them an edge, and they don’t particularly mind how they look while using them.

During the Olympics in Rio the US swim team turned heads when eagle-eyed viewers noticed the red circles on the bodies of swimmers.

It turns out that the team had turned to cupping to try to increase blood flow.

Whatever your thoughts on the effect of cupping, the US swim team had a golden run and it demonstrated that despite running the risk of looking silly they were looking for an edge.

In much the same way, successful business people look to tech tools to try to provide them an edge in innovation and productivity.

You learn how to be part of a team (or self-reliance)

The best elite athletes know when to take a game by the scruff of the neck, but also know when to let others take the lead to achieve a mutual outcome.

They know how to work with others as part of a system designed to give a team the best chance of success, and highly successful business people are the same.

Alternatively, those who play an individual sport know that the outcome of the game is entirely on their shoulders when they walk onto the court.

They have the resilience and coping mechanisms which come with the territory.

The best train like they’re the second-best

The best don’t just stop when they reach the top of their game – instead, they get paranoid about the chasing pack.

There’s an old saying in sport: ‘If you want to remain number one, train like you’re number two’.

This means that if you want to remain the best you need to train and play with the determination of somebody who desperately wants to be the best.

They know if they slack off, then the chasing pack will catch them.