Business Lessons From the 29th Olympiad

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Even if you are not a sports fan, it’s been difficult avoiding NBC’s unprecedented coverage of the 29th Olympics in China. Despite the fact that many skeptics wondered if NBC was crazy transmitting 3,600 hours of Olympic television and webcast coverage, the peacock network has struck gold. This Olympics’ Nielsen ratings have far outpaced the viewership of the previous summer Olympics in Greece, and its numbers are second only to this year’s Super Bowl. These Olympics have not disappointed for a variety of reasons; here are just two.

First, the Beijing Olympics remind us of the value of competition. Although a few select events have been won easily by a dominant individual or team (see Usain Bolt in the Men’s 100 Meter Dash), the victor has often been unknown until the last seconds of most events. Arguably the most enduring image of this Olympics is Michael Phelps, the winner of eight gold medals in Bejing, celebrating with his teammates when the U.S. Men’s swim team came from seemingly certain defeat to out-touch France at the wall in the 4 x 100 Men’s freestyle relay. In short, competition affords its participants the ability to definitively measure one’s performance.

Second, the Bejing Olympics remind us of the value of cooperation. Name any other event in existence today where 202 nations meet and follow the same set of rules for two weeks. You can’t. As Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the French enthusiast that helped resurrect the modern Olympic Games, stated in 1896, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part” (Uschan, 2000, p. 8). Indeed, each Olympiad provides a snapshot of what can be accomplished when nations choose to agree, rather than disagree. (As a reminder, these events occurred against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Georgia.) In short, cooperation is the foundation of progress.

Competition and cooperation: Two reasons why these Olympics have drawn a record-breaking audience and two powerful tools for any CEO or manager focused on increasing company production and profits in these challenging economic times.

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