The Harvard Business School Press book “Radical Innovation” explored whether groups or individuals mattered more in developing radical innovations—namely, the next new profitable blockbuster. The authors concluded, “The firms participating in our study earnestly wanted radical innovation to follow a systematic, organization-driven process. However, we found just the opposite, radical innovation was primarily driven by individual initiative. We were surprised by the lack of corporate attention…”
The message is clear: success is up to YOU! Maybe you should try to act like an Olympian.
Most people will never be Olympians, of course. However, we can practice one of their traits: never quit trying. Olympians are tenacious participants, as demonstrated by the following exchange from Nancy Hogshead, the most decorated swimmer in the 1984 Olympic Games, and documented in the book, “Awaken the Olympian Within.”
A 90-year-old man came up to me after one of my talks and said, “I could have been in the Olympics. It’s just that I got in a fight with my coach.”
I was raised to respect my elders, but I wanted to tell him, “If you let a fight with your coach get between you and the Olympics—you weren’t even close. You’ve been kidding yourself for the past seventy years.”
This is advice we should take to heart. Here are four brief profiles of winners who have embraced the Olympian spirit:
- James Dyson, born in 1947, studied at the Royal College of Art from 1966 through 1970, then pursued engineering. He learned determination as a long-distance runner, allowing him to build 5,127 prototypes of the Dyson G-Force vacuum cleaner before it was introduced to the market in 1983. Forbes estimates his net worth at over $4 billion.
- Raymond Dolby (1933–2013) earned a Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge and founded Dolby Labs in the UK in 1965. He moved to San Francisco in 1967. The 1971 movie “A Clockwork Orange” was the first to use Dolby sound filtering. At the time of his death, his net worth was $2.85 billion. The publicly traded DLB stock has a market value of $5.33 billion.
- Angie Hicks was born in 1970 and holds a Harvard MBA. She cofounded “Angie’s List” in 1995 when she, “needed decent contractors.” When asked what she has learned about herself while running her business, she replied, “One of my strongest traits is perseverance. It has helped me accomplish things I never dreamt of being able to do, like selling door to door.” The publicly traded ANGI stock has a market value of $739 million.
- Ruth Fertel (1927–2002) attended Louisiana State University. In 1965, she bought her first “Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse” by mortgaging her house. Her motive was to earn money to send her sons to college. RUTH stock has a market value of $620 million.
James, Raymond, Angie and Ruth are role models to emulate. Are you ready to act like an Olympian?
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