What’s your secret, Dave?

Just over a week on from the closing ceremony, and I’m still basking in the afterglow of London 2012. I must’ve watched the Beeb’s hour long round-up at least three times this past week, the goose bumps every bit as prominent as when watching the live performances of Jess Ennis, Andy Murray, Mo Farah, Katherine Grainger et al. It was, quite simply, a fortnight of inspirational sport.

Yet, as impressive as all of these individual performance were, most inspirational (and intriguing) of all, for me, was Team GB’s utter domination of the velodrome.

Of 10 gold medals up for grabs, Team GB won seven of them; and, but for a minor infraction in the women’s team sprint that saw Victoria Pendleton and Jess Varnish disqualified, we would surely have won a medal of some colour or other in every single event. Astonishing.

But that doesn’t even begin to tell the full story. Consider for example that…

  1. All of this was achieved despite cycling’s powers-that-be apparently being hell bent on ensuring that Team GB couldn’t dominate as they had done in Beijing – for example by stripping some of our most favoured events from the schedule.
  2. For good measure, Team GB also added a gold, a silver and a bronze on the road, courtesy of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the men’s time trial and Lizzie Armitsted in the women’s road race.
  3. In the preceding 12 months, the same management and coaching team behind all these Olympics successes is the very same one that also guided Bradley Wiggins to victory in the Tour de France (the first British rider in history to do so), and Mark Cavendish to a World Championship.

All of which begs the (admittedly rhetorical) question…

Is there a single more impressive coach or manager in world sport today than British cycling supremo, (the surely soon-to-be-Sir) Dave Brailsford?

As someone who’s always believed that the business world has much to learn from sporting successes, for me it also begs the question: what might we learn from Brailsford’s philosophy and approach to management?

What, for example, does it say about achieving sustainable change and innovation when you pit the undeniable success of Brailsford’s “aggregation of marginal gains” against the huge transformation programs so beloved in the business world?

If Brailsford ever does a Sir Clive Woodward and writes a book, I’ll be first in the queue to read it. Woodward’s book, Winning, was a fascinating read and, interestingly, I suspect there’d be quite a few parallels – not least in the assembly of an amazing support team from across multiple disciplines.

However, IMNSHO, Brailsford has a distinct edge over Woodward in one critical regard – one that you might also loosely tie back to sustainability – and that’s in the nurturing and development of the next generation of talent.

Following England’s victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the wheels very soon fell off – a somewhat paradoxical mix of the retirement of legends like Martin Johnson on the one hand and, on the other, faith in some of the other 2003 stalwarts, like Mike Tindall, being kept for far too long.

No such worries in the Team GB cycling camp, where the next generation is already there, and firing on all cylinders. Who needs to mourn the retirements of Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton when the likes of Jason Kenny and Laura Trott are already Olympic champions and look every bit as capable of dominating their events for several years to come?


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