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The U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team’s Lessons for American Business

The U.S. Women’s Gymnastic Team’s Lessons for American Business

In one of the greatest victories in the history of gymnastics, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team won its first team goal medal since 1996. It was only the second time in history that a U.S. women’s gymnastics team had won the gold.

There was plenty of drama. That started with world champion Jordyn Weiber’s tears after her heartbreaking exclusion from the all-around final. Then came NBC’s story on the tremendous sacrifices Gabby Douglas’ single mother (see video) made to send her teenage daughter hundreds of miles away to train with a world-class coach, hoping to make her Olympic dream come true. Finally, there was McKayla Maroney’s broken big toe, which she had determined would not prevent her from competing.

Of course, you know what happened. After Weiber’s depressing letdown, “She had about five minutes of disappointment, and she let it cry out,” related personal coach John Geddert. “And then she immediately responded with, ‘We’ve got work to do on Tuesday.’ ” Weiber’s work paid off, as she led off Team USA’s first rotation with high marks on a very difficult vault. “When she went out there and nailed that vault, it was contagious,” said Douglas, who came next and got even higher marks. Finally came the injured Maroney, whose vault seemed to soar to the rafters and nearly reached perfection. Before the night was over, the U.S. team had won by an astounding 5.066 points.

 

Olympic lessons for American businesses

This victory provides some valuable lessons. The first and most obvious is to never give up hope of succeeding in a challenging arena. The U.S. trade deficit may be huge. It may be hard to compete with China’s incredibly low wage scale. But it can be done. Rhode Island’s once formidable jewelry industry has been largely swallowed up by offshore competition. But one Ocean State company, Alex and Ani, has seen its creative jewelry, manufactured in the USA, become an international hit. Low prices from third-world manufacturers are hard to beat. This company shows that with creativity and good business sense, a difficult task is not impossible.

Insurers can’t always have the lowest price. But with many insureds, good value means more than just a low price. Solid financial footing, good service and high integrity are every bit as important. Combined with a competitive price, they form a combination that’s tough to beat. Activities that help communities and good personal contact can create affinity for companies and agents that represent them. And, as influence expert Dr. Robert Cialdini put it, ‘Even when all things are not equal, people prefer to do business with people that they like.’

Another lesson is the importance of gaining momentum, particularly after a disappointing showing. Just as Jordan Weiber’s terrific vault set the stage for the team’s excellent performance, a business team's winning a small victory can help them gain momentum for greater triumphs.

Winning for the team

Perhaps businesspeople’s most important lesson from the U.S. women’s gymnastics team is the importance of teamwork, with each member actively encouraging and helping the others. It’s hard to win as a team if each member just looks out for him or herself. How could American businesses work better as a unit?

One way is to recognize that our team memberships go far beyond our departments and firms. Our companies belong to communities, states and nations. We live in the same environment with everyone who shares the planet. Organizations must think of the community’s benefit instead of just next quarter’s profits. For instance, the news media, chasing high ratings, regularly reports on economic problems without giving equal time to bright spots in the marketplace. Then they inform us that consumer confidence, a major economic driver, is down. What a surprise!

If U.S. companies outsource business processes, they should try to do it with regional or domestic companies. After all, at least for insurance carriers, more people employed in the U.S. means more prospective insureds. A company’s American suppliers are a great source of customers. As a longtime employee of a company known for full-service fulfillment, data to print and mail and direct marketing programs including direct mail, I’m surprised we don’t receive more business solicitations from clients. It’s good for partners and neighbors to support each other. If living in Massachusetts, I would certainly want to sign on with Travelers of Massachusetts or with Concord Group if in New Hampshire. Since I live in Rhode Island, I should give Amica or NBIC a call before renewal.

Just having American businesses start thinking less as individual companies and more like parts of a larger community could substantially reduce unemployment and add spark to the recovery. What do you think? Could it work?

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