What’s the connection between 67 Olympic medals for the UK in Rio and a lorry driver becoming an accountant?


Countries and societies argue at length about the true legacy of any Olympics, be they in

London or Rio. I would guess that if you were impoverished and living in Rio you might, understandably find it hard to identify any positive legacy. Similarly, if you were to focus on the amount invested in the London Olympics and look for 30% return over two years you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not that its not there, its just impossible to make a direct correlation between the money spent and the financial return. That and we’re not readily prepared to look long and hard enough to find it.

It is of course a matter of perspective and each of us have the ability to change our perspective on something, although we often choose not to. For example, you could choose to be shocked at the near £300 million the UK is meant to have spent on its athletes through the lottery etc in order to gain 67 coloured metal discs, especially as you relate this to your personal income.  This is a good way to feel disillusioned.

Or, you could choose to consider that most of that £300 million has been spent on coaches, equipment, transport, housing, food and possibly the odd beer all link to other peoples’ employment and makes the money do what it should, namely go around.

But we do choose our perspective and therefore how we feel, and if we’re not careful, negative perspectives will stop us identifying and making the most of the real legacy of events like the Olympics.

Money is important but the true legacy of the Olympics is much deeper and richer than any immediate financial return. The real return is cultural; how we think, feel and act as a consequence of doing something individually or collectively well.

Sport is teaching us to think differently because sport itself in the UK has changed. The new thinkers in sport such as Dave Brailsford of Sky and UK cycling have been showing us how to do something well. Ask someone in the 1990s from mainland Europe about the UK’s ability to win the Tour-de-France and you would have had to pick them up off the floor as they collapsed in fits of laughter. And now? Well… the results speak for themselves.

I can also guarantee that Dave Brailsford’s “marginal gains” approach is being used extensively in the boardrooms and classrooms of UK firms. We are regaining our collective confidence to do things well and be at the forefront of the world, and the Olympics and sports in general is a part of that. Tell me that you didn’t have at least a little bit of pride and subsequent motivation from seeing the UK perform better than China in Rio?

So what is sport doing differently?

(This is where I’ll finally explain about lorry driver and the accountant…)

Firstly the approach of UK sport to selection, development and succession planning is, or should be, the envy of any major business in the UK. I’ve sat in on a few succession planning discussions in business and its obvious that most companies haven’t managed to identify or develop a big enough talent pool to give them a confident stream of people to put into the right positions.

UK sport is talent planning 8 to 12 years in advance and investing in quality, scientifically informed training and development to give themselves enough talent in the pool. It understands that peoples’ growth and performance is to some extent unpredictable and therefore you need to identify and develop bucket loads of talent, not all of which will reach its potential.

The other major shift in thinking is that now UK sports is focusing more on the right person in the right sport. In the past people arrived in a sport due to factors such as parental, peer or school influence, or just passion for the sport and / or its availability to them. These are also very likely to be the factors that shape a persons’ career choice. UK sport is starting to be much better at selecting people with the right mentality and physiology for each sport (it’s something the Australians have been doing for a while) It’s also something that’s starting to appear more and more in UK Businesses.

Recently when we were working with a retail and distribution company, we got to hear the story of a lorry driver becoming a successful account within the company (see I said I’d get there in the end). The company was looking for someone to work within the accounts department.

They, as we do, use a series of profile tools developed by a company that serves sport, education and industry. They used the tools to generate a job profile for the ideal type of person to fit the job. Before going outside the company they compared the profile with the profiles of people already in the business. Cue the lorry driver, a suspension of judgement and a profile led interview and training and enter a newly found accountant performing very well! Why, because he’s in the right job and now loves the company . . . even more!

A very powerful tool matched with very powerful thinking.

Informed thinking and a belief in being the best are the real Olympic legacy and we should be striving to take advantage of it in full.


I was in London last week, walking through the underground, wondering which was the quickest route to get to my destination. Then suddenly there appeared a man wearing a pink vest which said something like “here to help”. I posed my question about the quickest route and he gave me what I required . . . the quickest route. I left confident that I was going in the right way and happy to have had some smiling human contact. I don’t remember these friendly faces being present prior to the 2012 Olympic. Now that’s what I call giving the country a Leg-up-acy! Get it? Oh man, I kill me…