The Olympic games have been a lot of fun to watch this year. While it is exciting when your country or favorite athlete wins gold, it is also exciting to see athletes break world records.
In London 24 world records were broken and as I’m writing this there have been 21 records broken in Rio. These records are the result of innovation. People are not only working harder, but working smarter. Better competition, better technology, and sadly in some cases better drug cheating. We see the result of all the progress on display during the games, but just like when an organization ships a new innovation, we don’t see all the work that made the once impossible, possible.
Doing something new to the world is clearly a great way to win. It is tough to lose a race while running faster than every human in history. But with this uniqueness comes doubt. It isn’t believable to others that you can do the impossible even while you’re doing it.
Take Sunday night for example, I watched South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk win gold and set a world record in the process by running 400 meters in 43.03. As I watched him race, I doubted his chances every step along the way.
- He was in lane 8, no one ever wins in lane 8.
- He started off too fast, no one can hold that pace the second half of the race.
- The competition is too good, surely someone will catch him in the final meters.
But despite my doubts and reasons he shouldn’t win, he accomplished what no other person has ever done before.
This is too often the story of innovation within our organizations. It is easy to get excited when your organization says they are going to do something new to the world. It is harder to believe them. Our job as leaders and coaches is to never doubt our teams. You can’t ship a new to the world innovation without doing a few things differently along the way. This causes fear. We need drive out the fear, so it doesn’t get in the way of progress.
Last Friday I watched the women’s 10,000 meter. The first final of the games on the track and it was a world record. Before the race, I didn’t expect fast times, because championship distance races tend to be more tactical without pacers. When the gun went off I was surprised to see the women start as fast as they did and also excited to see if they would hold the pace. Half way through and the leaders were right on world record pace, but I had doubts that they would hold that pace. Then Almaz Ayana from Ethiopia takes over the lead and increases the pace. Lap after lap her world record chances increased and my doubts decreased as she showed no signs of slowing down. I’m not going to lie, I was even googling her during commercial breaks to learn her personal best times. By the time she reached the final mile it was clear that she would win gold and set a new world record in the process.
The long distance world record is a better representation of how our innovation system drives out fear. When we ship the new to the world idea, we grow our confidence by learning in cycles. Each cycle is a chance for the team and leadership to receive feedback on how the project is progressing. When we fail, we modify the idea based on what we learned, and try again. Then as we succeed, just like the lap splits during the 10k, these cycles give everyone the confidence that we can do something that no one else has ever done. Next step for us is to improve the overall systems for innovation and use them for the next ideas in the pipeline. Eventually later phases of development and shipping start feeling more like victory laps than sprints to the finish.
I hope you enjoy the rest of the Olympics and they inspire you to do something new to the world. Let us know if you want help. I promise our system doesn’t involve performance-enhancing drugs.
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