Two Men On The Slide

I’ve watched quite a bit of the winter Olympics  over the past week or so, and realised something pretty fundamental – almost every event is designed to kill or maim the competitors. The criteria for an event making it into the games seems to be fairly simple – is this a patently stupid activity for any  sane human to participate in….does it take place in conditions where any  sensible person would chuck down some grit? It is…it does? Great. It’s in! All we need now is two moronic, screeching commentators and we’re up and running. I don’t often watch TV with the sound turned down, but quickly learned this was the only way to watch the excellent slope style skiing  without putting my boot through the screen.

There is the odd exception to the peril of course. The bowls on ice (I think they call it curling) is about as dangerous as cushion making – and just as interesting to watch. Some of the competitors have even resorted to wearing comedy trousers to make it more exciting. It hasn’t worked.

Our women’s team are particularly good at this though,  (curling, not cushion making) and when I pointed out at home that this was probably because it involved a great deal of sweeping with brooms, my comment wasn’t particularly well received. I realised this when the first pair of ballet shoes hit me on the back of the head, and had it confirmed when the second pair hit their target followed by a sneaky knee to the groin. Sometimes I don’t think they realise who is boss around here.

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about my domestic battles today, I want to talk about two competitors,  Alexey Voevoda from Russia  and Charlie White from the USA. Both are Olympic Gold medalists. White won his gold in the ice dance competition with partner Meryl Davis – the event that made Torvill and Dean household  names back in 1984.  Voevoda  won his Gold medal in the two man bobsleigh event with partner Alexander Zubkov. I watched both competitions.

Now I’m not a big fan of ice dancing (and don’t really see it as a sport if I’m honest) but you couldn’t fail to be impressed by the skill, athleticism and artistry that went into the performance. It was elegant and flawless. My daughter has a friend who is a top ice dance competitor and  hopes to go to the next Olympics. I have seen the amount of training, practice, sacrifice and commitment that goes into reaching  the standard of national competition, let alone Olympic standard. It’s all-encompassing and doesn’t just take over your life – it becomes your life.

When Charlie White and his partner  stepped on to the ice in Sochi, what the world saw was the result of over 20 years of practice, training and preparation – a life put on hold and dedicated to the achievement of one aim. Painful early morning training sessions, long separations from family and friends, a childhood given up in pursuit of perfection.  He’s 26 now, but has been dancing with his partner since the age of eight. And on that day, it all came together for them.  All the other competitors would have trodden a similar path of course, but the final destination for them was to be less glorious.

Now let me tell you what Alexey Voevoda did to secure his gold medal. He pushed a bobsleigh for less than four seconds. At the end of that four second period, he jumped in the back, put his head down, to minimise drag, and sat there behind his driver Alexander Zubkov, until the 56 second run was over. At this point he applied the brake. I’m not suggesting  for one second that anyone could do it, but let me put it this way  –  there’s little comparison between the skill, effort and commitment White and  Voevoda needed to compete at the highest level in their chosen events, and yet if they were to meet up and compare, they’d find they both have exactly the same medal.

I suspect you’re not planning which event to tackle at the next winter Olympics, and may therefore be wondering what I’m going on about. Well here’s the thing – what’s true in Olympic sport is equally true in the world of business and money making – many roads lead to the same outcome, and yet some are considerably easier than others. Some are a great deal more flexible too.

Perhaps I appear to have been a little hard on Mr Voevoda , the bobsleigh brake man, but let me be completely candid – my approach to business and making money has always been far more in line with him than Charlie White.  I have always sought out simple, easy and flexible  ways to achieve my goal rather than try to do something too complicated, innovative, inflexible or clever. It means I have sacrificed, risked  and committed very little along the way,  but I see that as a positive thing. Perhaps you do too?

I see so many people spending years,  and every waking hour, slowly developing complex businesses I don’t even understand, let alone have the ability to run. Some are able to achieve their ‘gold medal’, but most fall short. And when that happens, like the failed Olympic skaters, they often find they have developed skills and abilities which aren’t transferable to anything else. They have become very good (but not the best) at something which the world has told them it doesn’t want from them. Not enough, anyway.

Contrast that with the brakeman approach. He has developed strength and fitness. These are assets with wide ranging applications. The prize of an Olympic  gold medal is a massive one, but his commitment to the cause is relatively small. There is no great opportunity cost. How much specific training can a 4 second sprint pushing a bobsleigh take? The rest of his training and preparation will have wider applications. It won’t be wasted or lost if the prize isn’t won. *

By focussing my business efforts on marketing rather than anything product or service specific, I’ve kept my preparations simple and flexible. I haven’t invested years of my life developing new products and services with uncertain chances of success. Instead, I’ve focussed on marketing and selling products and services which already exist. It’s a skill which is easily transferable. If the first thing doesn’t work out, you can easily move on to the next…and then the next…with a few minor adjustments. The work and the preparation isn’t really lost or wasted.

Perhaps this is something you might consider when you’re thinking about how you’re going to make your money in the future.  Are you going to take the arduous fully committed, No-Plan-B route of the skater, or are you going to ‘hedge your bets’ a little like the Bobsleigh brakeman, and look for the simpler route with fallback positions?  There’s certainly virtue and kudos in taking the difficult route, and succeeding, but there are massive dangers too. For most of us, seeking out the shortcuts with Plan B options is the most sensible approach – especially when you realise it’s the same ‘gold medal’ on offer at the end of the game.

* I wrote this before finding out about Alexey Voevoda, but it seems I was right. Not only is he a bobsleigh brakeman, but he’s also a professional arm wrestler and currently training for a place on the Olympic Judo team.

9 thoughts on “Two Men On The Slide

  1. Tony Pease

    UK is best at sports requiring you to sit down (cycling, equestrian and rowing, where you also go backwards!) Can we persuade the winter olympic authorities to run the bobsleigh backwards and give UK a chance?

    1. John Harrison Post author

      Not necessary. We went one better in the winter Olympics and got our first gold medal in an event where you actually lay down…skeleton bob (or woman on a tea tray). We won the same thing last time I think, so laying down is obviously a talent we have. If they’d just bring in an event involving a DFS sofa, I reckon we’d get a clean sweep of the medals.

  2. Terry Carroll

    If you think Alexey Voevoda had it easy, just consider the numbers 2 and 3 men in the 4-man bobsleigh. They don’t even have to apply the brake – just keep their heads down!!

    Best wishes


    1. John Harrison Post author

      Yes I did think about those two freeloaders, but wanted to contrast competitors taking part in a two-person event.

  3. ken hughes

    Surely it’s not so much marketing, John, that you concentrate your efforts on, where to be successful products need to have some merits, but on creative copyrighting that can be used in any product situation.

    1. John Harrison Post author

      Well copywriting is one part of marketing.

      With any business or service, there’s a huge amount of ‘unpaid’ work that needs to be done before it’s ready to be unleashed on the public. It’s in the same way that the Olympic skater has to put in an incredible amount of preparation before his ‘product’ is ready to face the judges. In both cases, you often don’t know whether you have a viable product until it’s put to the test. And if your product isn’t right, much of the effort is wasted.

      Now as a marketer, you can allow someone else to do all the unpaid preparation work. In fact you can allow several people to do different unpaid preparation work all at the same time. Your investment in time/effort in each product that’s ready for market is small in comparison with the people who have brought it to that stage. Even if you’re unsuccessful with a particular product, the marketing effort may not be wasted as it could be good marketing (preparation) but the wrong product (event). I’m sure you can see the parallel with the bobsleigh brakeman who has developed transferable skills.

      1. ken hughes

        I was referring to ‘creative’ copywriting in a simiIar way to use of the term in ‘creative’ accountancy. Laymen tend to use the abbreviation BS instead of creative copywriting.


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