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Lesson from the Olympics: Make the Most of A Penguin Slide

February 13th, 2014

I am part of the bi-annual social tribe that can’t get enough of the sporting triumphs and letdowns called the Olympics. Like every Olympics, the news from Sochi covers not only the competitive events, but also the lifestyle sacrifices that athletes have made in dedication to their sport.

Olympic coverage and commentary is filed with metaphors, secrets and lessons for business from the back stories of Olympians, and this column isn’t one of them.

The incident that caught my eye was a real-time penguin slide.

Devin Logan had a solid first run in the women’s ski slopestyle event. The effort was enough for a medal, but not enough for gold. What looked like a strong second run might have changed the medal standings for Logan, until her final jump. Logan landed off-balance, fell forward, and raced to the finish line on her stomach, skis uplifted and crossed behind her. Logan did a penguin slide – the skiing equivalent to a belly flop.

It wasn’t this dramatic setback that impressed me. It was Logan’s attitude after her penguin slide finish. Even through a helmet, goggles and a face full of snow, she stood up laughing, raised her arms and hopped like a gymnast sticking the landing of a pommel horse dismount. She laughed, and the world laughed along with her. 

British philosopher James Allen noted that “circumstances do not make a man; they reveal him.” That penguin slide revealed volumes about Devin Logan.

No coulda-shoulda-woulda blaming about a run gone awry and the loss of a gold medal. Just good-humored, total acceptance of her best effort at that point in time. Logan may be remembered for her very human connection with Olympic viewers long after her silver medal accomplishments have been celebrated. 

Whether you’re in sales, leading a business or managing a project, that penguin slide is an Olympic-sized take-away. Savor those preparation-backed, medal-worthy moments when you deliver a product, service or outcome that exceeds expectations. If your effort turns into a penguin slide, remember that it’s one point in time. And that circumstances don’t make you; they reveal you. 

Looking for Opportunity? Look Where it Isn’t

February 3rd, 2014

“Look where it is not, as well as where it is.”

 So says a centuries-old French proverb, and there’s truth in that saying where strategic partnerships are concerned.

My client, the president of a technology company, wanted to target new customers in a highly regulated industry and needed an entry strategy. He believed that a partnership with a large, global provider of information technology (IT) security hardware that had a track record in the industry was the way to go. To find out, I went to the source – the CEOs of 10 companies in the industry – and requested a brief conversation with each of them.

Figuring out which companies or experts these CEOs relied on for IT and regulatory-related services was the key objective for my conversations.  

Looking Where it Isn’t

I went back to my client with the name of a small law firm in the Southwest. My client was skeptical – a law firm? That’s it? According to several CEOs I spoke with, this small law firm  was one they relied on for guidance.

My client and I researched the law firm. The off-the-shelf website template did not impress my tech-savvy client. We dug deeper. One page on the website included information on the law firm’s hard-copy regulatory guides, which it provided along with highly specialized legal consulting. Aha. Instead of assuming that the law firm and its low-tech approach were not a fit, my client began to see the potential opportunity in a partnership based on complementary expertise and interests.

Taking Cues from the Clues

We contacted the law firm, taking our low-tech cues from the website: we wrote a hard copy letter and sent it postal mail.  A few days later, we got a call from the firm’s principals and an invitation to meet. It turned out that the law firm had a client base of more than 1,000 companies in the industry that my client wanted to target, and was looking for an alliance to address the technology-based regulatory needs of its clients. That meeting was the start of a mutually productive partnership and a steady pipeline of prospects for my client.

What would your company do with 1,000 new prospects?

Maybe it’s time to drop your assumptions and look where it isn’t. Not every high-tech/low tech or other seemingly contrarian pairing develops into a high-yield relationship.  But sometimes, looking where you think opportunity isn’t, as well as where you think it is, can reveal an unexpected path to profitable growth.