The announcement of Chicago, and really the United States, early exit from the 2016 Summer Olympic voting offers at least two immediate lessons. Both are timeless lessons in life and business. Fundamentals that seem to trip-up even the most veteran, experienced professionals. Simply put – know your audience and minimize your personal downside.
Clearly I am no expert when it comes to the International Olympic Committee, its members, its mode of operation, or its inner workings and decision making. Nor am I professing to understand to any significant degree all that goes into bidding for and/or hosting an Olympic Games. However, what I am very sure of is that there are lessons to be learned for all of us, especially when they are fundamental issues that have just been played out on a very public stage.
Knowing your target market is critical in business and in life. Every sales presentation, product or service that is designed or marketed, every interview, every interaction is aimed at or positioned towards someone. It is absolutely critical that the presentation be directed to the decision maker. One must know who your target market or audience is, what their concerns are, what factors might play into their decision making. Being sensitive to their paradigm is absolutely critical. Simply stated, it is about them, not about you.
A great deal was made of the “Chicago delegation” that went to Copenhagen, with special attention given to the presence of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. A country’s First Lady – makes perfect sense, she is an individual of consequence on the international stage. There is great significance in her participation – it demonstrates national level commitment to the ultimate IOC decision makers. Oprah Winfrey is clearly a powerful presence in American popular culture, of that there is no question. However – does she impact these particular decision makers? Is she tied to the Olympic movement, is she an Olympian, a member of their community, a person who holds sway within their world? Doubtful at best. To an American audience she matters, but the ultimate decision makers were not an American audience.
It is critical to remember that whenever any of us are debating a decision that involves spending our personal or professional capital, there is potential downside that must be considered. There is risk in every decision, and taking risks is a necessary part of life and business. Knowing and honestly evaluating the downside is crucial, arguably of greater importance than evaluating the upside potential. Managing and minimizing your risk when spending your personal and professional capital is paramount.
Obviously it is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight that the presence and personal pitch of the President to the IOC was not a winning move. Whether he should have gone to Copenhagen is open to debate and will be critiqued to exhaustion. Was there upside to the President’s involvement – absolutely. Was there downside – clearly. Was there more risk than originally considered – only time will tell. Losing now and again is part of life, part of business – everyone knows and accepts it. Setting yourself up for big, public, resounding, crushing defeats – never wise.
Though there will never be one simple, all encompassing answer to why the Chicago bid was rejected – was it just Rio’s time, was it a poor sales presentation, was it geographic voting blocks, was it anti-American backlash, IOC bribery issues ala Salt Lake City, or was it W’s fault still – no one will ever know, and in the end it really does not matter. What is clear is that it is always about the fundamentals. Life and business are always about the fundamentals. Know your audience and minimize risk.
Never ask the question unless you already know the answer goes the old adage. The same goes for spending your own political, personal, or professional capital – you better be very sure of what the outcome will be before you throw that blue chip on the table. Take risks – absolutely. Calculated risks are even better. But betting big when you have massive downside exposure is foolish. In a sales presentation, in an interview, with whatever your product or service might be, whatever relationship scenario you can imagine, it is always about them, not about you. Ask any Olympian – it is all about the fundamentals.