Published on: February 11, 2014by Michael Sansolo
When Sage Kotsenburg finished his gold medal run this weekend in the Olympics his mind was probably full of a million thoughts. Not one of them was, “Wow, I just provided an amazing business lesson.”
Yet that’s exactly what Kotsenburg did and you’d be missing an opportunity if you ignore his feat, his attitude and the lesson he created. In fact, it’s one of those rare moments that creates an easy and yet wonderful discussion with your team on the power of innovation, hard work and creativity.
Kotsenburg actually won the first gold medal of the games in the inaugural men’s slopestyle snowboarding. It’s a new Olympic event, originally from the rebellious and outrageous X-games culture. The event involves snowboarding down a very steep hill, doing a series of stunts, jumps and other things that, frankly, scare the daylights out of me.
There was actually no expectation that Kotsenburg would win. The 20-year-old US athlete wasn’t considered the world’s best at the event and hadn’t won a major race for most of his career. He’s clearly quite good, but never the best.
Until the last run of the Olympics that is.
Heading into the final jump on the run, Kotsenburg said he felt great and saw a moment. He flew into the air and managed a series of more than four revolutions while adding both flair and a perfect landing. In one amazing moment, Kotsenburg went from chasing the leaders to Olympic gold.
And in that we find incredible lessons.
First, let’s give Kotsenburg his due. He didn’t win through luck. Despite the slacker appearance of the snowboarders, they are amazing athletes. They train and work incredibly hard at their craft, knowing that every practice run they take features the strong possibility of a big injury. No one gets into the finals of the Olympics - or even on the Olympic team - without a ton of practice, risk and effort.
So give him credit: it was hard work that positioned Kotsenburg for the win.
But it was creativity and innovation that got him the gold. The entire snowboarding world was stunned by Kotsenburg’s final jump because it was so completely unexpected. As the snowboarder said after his win, “You want to do stuff that’s never been done. You want to follow your own path.”
Most insightfully, he added, “There is no blueprint.”
In other words, sometimes you have to think outside the box and push yourself well beyond your comfort zone, to achieve greatness.
Luckily for me, Kotsenburg pulled off this feat just as I was preparing to address the IGA Global Rally in Las Vegas on the topic of innovation. It’s hard to imagine a better lesson could even come along.
For IGA retailers or business people from companies of any size, Kotsenburg’s gamble was exactly the kind of moment that needs to be considered. It was a triumph built on preparation through hours of training, inspiration and a willingness to take a risk, seize the moment and go where no one had gone before.
Risk taking and innovation are never easy. There’s always the potential of failure and falling. But in a world of rapidly changing conditions and ever increasing competition, playing it safe is hardly a great strategy either. Playing it safe never wins medals and many times leaves businesses playing catch up to new and unexpected competitors.
So share the Sage Kotsenburg story with your team to ignite a feeling of innovation and experimentation. There’s no telling what could come out of it.
Best of all, you don’t have to do it while careening down a mountain on a snowboard.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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