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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lessons from an Olympic gold medal winner

Everybody's looking for gold! Some lessons from a gold medal winner at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing China.

He, like many competition athletes, did not come to China to have fun. He came to take care of business. The business of sports is competition. The profit/loss business ledger columns of business are the win/loss columns of sports competition where a win is profit and a loss is a loss, still. He came for the gold.

Michael Phelps, the twenty-three year-old from Baltimore Maryland, has forced even the most disinterested to take notice of his remarkable Olympic feat: An unprecedented eight (ocho) gold medals in men’s swimming competition to surpass Mark Spitz' 1972 longstanding record of seven.

We spectators may find it difficult to accept this view of Olympic sports competition. It doesn’t sit well with our romantic, couch view of sports as entertainment. This is not a throw-off on capitalism or competition. It is about a lesson of independence and team work.

I wrote a Spanish post on the "Treasure of the Maquiladoras" ("El Botin de las Maquiladoras") a while back. The point of that post was to illustrate although the maquiladoras (apparel assembly manufacturers, primarily) in south Texas are gone their treasure, their gold, remains. That valuable treasure is the Knowledge, Skills and Experience which remains as the sole intellectual property of the independent former workers who now earn their livlihood at McDonald's, Walmart or the call centers and plastic injection molds which continue to seize the labor-force opportunity left behind in south Texas.

These same individuals possess the capability to team together with local independent apparel retailers; a virtual apparel manufacturer. I receive a regular stream of emails from designers in need of pattern makers and a manufacturer. At least one of them has expressed her desire to discontinue her business with China manufacturers. She has decided to go for the gold in the US, instead. Why are these two, independent individuals and independent designers, apparel retailers, not seizing the valuable treasure in their communities for the creation of their apparel items, their apparel line? They are both looking for gold, but both seem to look past each other.

As impressive as are Michael Phelps’ accomplishments they are a powerful testimony and lesson about trust, confidence and risk. Although he tied the world record when he won seven (siete) gold medals as an individual there was one more. The only race left where he could possibly, and quite likely, win another gold medal was the 4X100 medley relay; _ not as an individual swimmer, but as a team member.

Lest you think, “It’s only a game”, that is not the mindset of competition athletes. The decision by Michael Phelps to play as and be a team member was potentially costly. His image was at risk had the team suffered a loss. However, I believe it was more than just another race for him. It was an golden opportunity to play, compete and win as an American team member. He believed in the capability and willingness of his teammates to take the risk and go for gold together with them.

Take care of business. Go for the gold. Enhance your competitive edge. Build your team. Build your IC-Network.

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