There’s something special about watching an underdog compete at the Olympics. When they rise to the top it’s thrilling and we feel like we’ve seen something special, but often there are also lessons to be learned from those who don’t win. Do you remember when everyone cheered on the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics?
You may remember that the Jamaicans didn’t even officially finish the race in 1988. They were a bit of a punchline for mismatched sports and athletes and even inspired a Disney movie starring John Candy. But you might not remember that the Jamaican team returned to race in 1992 and 1994 and made improvements both times. In fact, in 1994 they finished in 14th place, ahead of teams from the U.S., France, Sweden and Russia.
Of course, they haven’t yet medaled in the sport, but as a community dedicated to continuous improvement, I’m certain that we can all respect the effort and the work it took to move up the rankings. What’s more, they also inspired others to compete and in 2018, the Jamaican men failed to qualify for the Olympics, but the Jamaican women sent their first bobsled team to the Olympics in PyeongChang.
When underdogs compete, we often see them relying on any advantage they can find. We see them dissecting the great competitors who came before them to see what worked in the past. We see them experimenting and pushing the envelope. We see their attempts to out work others. We see their grit in everything they do.
These are traits we can take into our professional lives as lean, continuous improvement practitioners.
Instead of being inspired to cheer for underdogs, we should be inspired to work like underdogs. Be a sponge for knowledge. Soak up every training you can find. Look to the thought-leaders and examine how and why their processes and leadership work. Experiment based on what you learn but don’t be afraid to fail. And when you fail, practice persistence.
Lastly, remember to inspire others in your organization. Empower them to look at their own areas of responsibility and take ownership of making positive strides. Invite them to a training or share your knowledge.
When you give team members know-how, a runway to experiment, and a safety net when they fail, don’t be surprised when it leads to long-term positive outcomes for everyone.
As always, please stay safe and keep looking out for one another.