Sporting success provides a model for career success

The BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2012 awards were screened last night, and after the absolutely exceptional sporting year we have had in Great Britain, it was sure to be a close contest. In the event, it was won by Bradley Wiggins, followed by Jessica Ennis and Andy Murray – but the final result (decided by a public telephone vote) seemed largely academic in comparison to their sporting achievements earlier in the year.BradleyWiggins_SPOTY2012[Photo courtesy of BBC]

I couldn’t help but notice the parallel with career success, particularly with students (graduates and school-leavers) who are taking the first steps in their working lives. Continue reading

Preconceived ideas… a passion-killer

Channel4 television has recently started airing another excellent documentary – Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket, in which a farmer (Jimmy) attempts to persuade Tesco to sell high-welfare produce in addition to their existing range.

Jimmy confirmed very quickly through face-to-face chats with customers, that the biggest challenge was one of price.  High-welfare meat was well-received, but customers said they expected it would cost more, and weren’t prepared to pay extra for it.  Nevertheless, he picked up the challenge, with a determination which was admirable.  In the first episode we saw him working with farmers to produce free-range, high welfare meatballs which almost met the cost target – but they tasted slightly different from the every-day “value” meatballs which Tesco were selling.  At his presentation to the senior managers, he was met with a wall of objections, primarily because of the different ingredients (in this case English rose veal) which, they said, would put customers off.  Undeterred, Jimmy spoke directly with the customers, explained everything to them and they were fine with that.

Of course, it is always a matter for senior management to do what they believe is best for their organisation, and it is imperative that they use the experience which they bring to the role.  Learning lessons is part of what makes us all more successful, but it is very depressing to hear senior people saying “we’ve tried this before“, and “if it were easy we’d have done it by now” to someone clearly driven to do something different.

In the episodes which followed, Jimmy redeveloped the sausage and the chicken kiev, on the same basis – reaching a cost which was acceptable to the consumer, whilst at the same time using high welfare meat.  The result was that Tesco (eventually) agreed to stock the new recipe and consumers voted, through sales, confirming that they did indeed appreciate high welfare meat.

None of this would have happened if the senior managers had followed their instincts which had been carefully honed over many years of looking at sales figures.  They would have instantly killed off the ideas on the basis that consumers would never buy something different.  Possibly because they were being filmed for a television documentary (we’ll never know), they let Jimmy try to prove them wrong – which, of course, he did.

We often see children trying some crazy things unencumbered by experience or preconceived ideas.  Admittedly the results are sometimes horrendous, but sometimes they are wonderful.  Surely our experience tells us is that it’s okay sometimes to put our preconceived ideas “on hold”, and try something different.  By always saying no, we kill any passion to think differently and do things differently.