Olympians and entrepreneurs: Cut from the same cloth

Olympians and entrepreneurs: Cut from the same cloth

Montreal was post-Munich, but to a kid it might as well have been post-apocalyptic. We slowly made it to our seats, passing some very serious machine gun-wielding security personnel. We were here to see this kid from California, Bruce Jenner. 

The pre-Kardashian Bruce Jenner was something to behold. Having finished 10th in the Munich Decathlon four years earlier, he set his mind and spirit on not only winning an Olympic gold medal, but setting the world record in his event. For three years leading up to the track at Olympic Stadium in Montreal he worked selling insurance on top of training up to 10 hours per day for the 10 decathlon events and studying the psychology of sport. Jenner understood that while perspiration was preparation, a world record would involve a commitment of the spirit, soul and mind, as well as of the body.

I watched him win gold. I watched him on the track and it felt as if the entire world were stakeholders in his triumph. This wasn’t about the victory of a man called Jenner or of a nation called America; it was about what a person could achieve in what is almost universally regarded as the most challenging of all Olympic events.

Given that I’m writing this not for Sports Illustrated, but for the blog of one of the world’s leading centres of innovation, I hope you sense that we’re about to shift gears here.

All of us who have been competitive athletes can speak to what it takes to start from nothing and build your skills and strength to compete at a high level in sport. And any entrepreneur can speak to what it takes to build something important and useful from nothing. Olympians and entrepreneurs are cut from the same cloth. They are one in every possible way.

“You create your own luck” is advice that many of us have given to both entrepreneurs and athletes. Think about what it takes to win a gold medal. Yes, talent is fundamental, but it’s what you do to improve day in and day out—it’s how you push the limits of your gifts—that will define your path. There are no excuses in the Olympics, just as there are no excuses in entrepreneurship.

The reality is simple: Someone will win a gold medal in each of the events in the upcoming London Olympics. And, as you read this today, there are entrepreneurs who will experience similar victories in their life’s work, whether that’s in the form of receiving funding, a breakthrough in iteration, media coverage that brings more eyes to their product or a golden exit.

As we cheer on our athletes in London, let’s do the same here at home with our entrepreneurs. Let’s reward them not only for the end result, but for the beautiful struggle that is achievement.