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What business leaders can learn from elite athletes

Dedication, agility and innovation are traits that elite athletes and business leaders share. But what separates the best from the rest in both fields is often the use of technology.

Technology can help athletes train more effectively and increase their chances of sporting success, while companies are constantly on the look-out for innovative new ways of securing growth.

Digitalization is helping both sport and business professionals to develop agile and innovative ways of gaining a competitive advantage.

Agile working helps reduce failure

Sometimes failure is unavoidable. Circumstances can change and a previous objective is no longer possible. The best way to limit the impact of failure is to take an agile approach.

Speaking at the TCS Summit Europe 2017 in Madrid, Dame Kelly Holmes, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, revealed how she adopted an agile mindset to bounce back from a string of injuries.



“It was the reflection on the journey as a team [that led to us] making some small tweaks to try and not fall into the same pattern,” she said. “We would try different ways of training and other approaches.”

This subtle change in direction contributed to Dame Kelly’s success in the 800m and 1500m at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

The agile approach is equally effective across various industries. The most successful businesses are those able to step back from the bigger picture and reassess their ways of working.

A lesson for business leaders from olympic gold medallist @damekellyholmes at #TCSsummit

— TCS Europe (@TCS_Europe) September 14, 2017

Innovate to achieve long-term goals

Agility is crucial in setting athletes and business leaders on the right track to long-term achievement.

But long-term goals can only be met through constant innovation.

Sporting legend Carl Lewis – the winner of nine Olympic gold medals – told delegates at TCS Summit Europe 2017 that the key to hitting targets is to focus on performance, rather than short-term success.

He explained: “Set an ultimate goal so you’re always engaged in excellence. Don’t worry about winning, worry about being your best. Getting better individually. Everybody wants to be Olympic champion, but you can’t control that, what you can control is your performance.”



Winners think digital

Athletes embrace technology to analyze their performance and develop ways to shave milliseconds off their track times. The end result could be the difference between winning an Olympic medal and the bitter disappointment of fourth place.

As with businesses, athletes rely on data crunching to ensure their hard work is paying off.

Dame Kelly told TCS summit delegates: “Data analysis on lots of sport is becoming critical. We’re looking for marginal gains, and everybody needs that extra bit of data for those marginal gains.”



But, as Carl explained, it is not just elite athletes who are benefiting from technology.

“With the internet and the cloud we can upload videos and everyone can be a coach,” he said.

“I can be a coach for anyone on earth in real time.”

Teamwork will always be vital

Technology can provide the all-important marginal gain, but success is inevitably underpinned by teamwork.

Elite athletes don’t do it alone, nor do business leaders. Their achievements – and failures – come as part of a wider team.

Becoming the best is hard, but it’s nothing compared to what it takes to stay there. Athletes and businesses who have reached the top become the benchmark for competitors who are desperate to overtake them.


Ultimately, the teams that remain at the pinnacle of their profession are those that combine technology with an agile and innovative approach to hitting targets.

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