Lessons from the Olympics
Author: Alain Bejjani — CEO, Majid Al Futtaim — Holding
At first glance, business and sport seem to have much in common. Both are results- and performance-oriented, highly competitive, thrive on differentiation, strategy and teamwork, for example.
Both are also clearly about people. Sports, like no other platform, is a microcosm of life: through its highs and lows, we learn how to better respond to them; through its universality, it shows us we have more that unites us than separates us.
Sports shows us what the human spirit is made of. The pursuit of excellence, persistence, achievement, the will to push against our own limits and keep going reminds us of our potential, of the fuller versions of ourselves. I believe there is much we can and should apply from sports to business, especially from the global Olympics.
Here are a few thoughts inspired by the Tokyo Olympics:
1. Champions are everywhere. In the first week, the Philippines won its first gold medal ever and set an Olympic record thanks to weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz. She started lifting at 11, often with homemade weights, staying the course through trying circumstances. A few days ago, 18-year-old Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui shocked everyone by taking home the gold in the men’s 400m freestyle swim. How many champions are we housing unknowingly, and what are our plans for discovering, growing and tapping their talent?
2. Passion changes everything. Among the 10,000 athletes from more than 200 countries in Tokyo are pre-teens as well as those in their 50s and 60s. Sky Brown reminds me of the question ‘What would you do if you knew you could not fail?’ This 13-year-old taught herself to skateboard watching YouTube videos, and suffered a skull fracture and broken bones while training for Tokyo. She was back on her board in less than two months. Are we this passionate and driven and if not, what’s our excuse?
3. Endurance, because… There is undoubtedly much to be inspired by at the Olympics, but one of my personal favourites has to be the team of refugee athletes. These 29 displaced individuals from across the world has endured war, persecution, loss and exile and kept going. Many of us have endured much over the last pandemic year, and we can look to these and others as role models to keep going.
4. Attitude is everything. In business as in life, how we respond to loss or failure is just as important as how we react to success. Attitude can change failure into achievement. The UAE’s Yousuf Al Matrooshi is one of many Olympians who reminded me of this, as he exited Tokyo grateful for the learning curve. A reminder that attitude determines altitude — how high we rise, or don’t, depends on how we think.
5. Values — and how we live them out — matter. How we treat each other — how we care for those around us, our communities and our planet — matters, in life and in business. Thank you to Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi for reminding us of this, and for reminding us what true sportsmanship looks like.
This is by no means an exhaustive list — there are more inspiring moments from the Olympics every day, not least the Arab nations and Arab women involved, and many lessons that we would do well to carry over into business. I look forward to reading some of yours.