Some time ago I was surprised to learn that in gymnastics competitions at global levels such as the Olympics, achieving a “perfect score” for a perfectly executed routine in any of the disciplines, needs more than just the perfection of the routine itself.

The judges hold back a small percentage of the overall score in search of 3 extra elements. Whilst these in themselves are not a huge part of the overall score, for these world class athletes they can mean the difference between just a great score and actually winning the gold medal.

The 3 elements are Risk, Originality and Virtuosity.

Risk …The athletes generally train 8 hours per day, 7 days a week for 4 years to get to the Olympics after a lifetime of preparation. The judges want to see that they are prepared to take a calculated (not crazy) risk in their routine, to go for the Gold.

Originality … The judges are always on the lookout for something new in the routine.
For many years the “iron cross” on the rings was a part of every gymnast’s repertoire.
At the London Olympics in 1948, one of the competitors became the first person to do it upside down (inverted cross), and he would have received the bonus for originality. Since then it became a standard, and expected, part of every competitor’s routine, and does not attract any bonus points.

Virtuosity … The judges look for at least one element in every routine, whether it is a mount or a tumble or whatever, where they could consider that the athlete would be amongst the best in the world in that particular element, before they would award this bonus in the overall score.

It became quickly obvious to me that these 3 criteria are just as critical in the business world, and I have included an element of these in my performance reviews over the years.

Calculated risk is a critical element of business success not only at the organizational but also at the personal level, whether it is standing up to one’s boss, or speaking up for your beliefs against a generally popular decision, or choosing one particular direction from a vast choice and sticking with it to a successful conclusion, and I have always sought and encouraged this level of bravery. A manager has to ensure that he can have some “crazy” people in his team who are prepared to question things and thus drive change, if allowed. Too many people take the safer route, which involves keeping ones head below the parapet, not questioning decisions taken, joining any stampedes and keeping away from taking individual and measureable risks. I believe that this is one reason why so many companies have built cultures of continual meetings. The justification is usually that it drives greater involvement, but the reality is that it is generally done for covering ones tracks. If the resultant team outcome is successful, everyone can lay claim to the decision. If it is a failure everyone can blend back into the safety and anonymity of the herd.

Originality, not just in product or service innovations, but also in how and what we do to address business need, are today more critical than ever, especially the “how”. How we build successful and loyal relationships within our ecosystem of customers, partners and suppliers. How we establish ourselves as an integral part of the community. How we build commitment and engagement with our own staff. Some years ago, to gain some competitive advantage, it was just about enough to develop an innovative step change in your product. In the automotive sector, for example, it could then take your competitors years to be able to catch up. With today’s technologies, product advantage even with the patent madness we have created, can generally only be measured in months. The “how” you do things is much harder for your competitors to emulate. What we did yesterday to be successful will not work today, and what we do today will be unlikely to work tomorrow. If we don’t keep changing we become predictable, and being predictable makes us competitively vulnerable.

Virtuosity in the Olympic gymnastics involves the judges looking for athletes to be amongst the best in the world. This ability to hire the best in the world is significantly harder in a business context, as most companies tend to hire the best that is available to them at the time, and this will depend heavily on how they go about targeting the pool that they will get to choose from. I worked with one company that believed that they were hiring the brightest and the best that were keen to be part of changing the world. When we surveyed the previous year’s intake, we found that the majority of them had joined for safety reasons, which was exactly the public image portrayed by this company. We quickly had to separate the recruitment image from the overall global company image to try and appeal to the needed would-be world changers.

I have never expected people to be the best in the world, but I have always expected and believed that, irrespective of their role, they owed it to themselves to be the best that they could be.



  1. Frank Liebeskind says:

    Sir Peter Ables (deceased) a great Australian businessman that created TNT and once controlled Ansett Airlines once said to me: “I’d rather have a champion team, than a team of champions”.. how correct!
    And I have a signed note from Laurie Lawrence the great Australian swim coach, it reads “Stuff the silver” .
    These 2 catch phrases have always stuck with me and influenced my thinking.
    Regards, Frank

  2. Malcolm Booth says:

    The “Calculated risk” brings back a little Déjà vu from 1995 for me, but I’m not sure it was encouraged at the time 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: