As I write this Olympics 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, are in their final days. Once again the four-yearly sports fest has produced a blend of the good, the bad and the ugly. The good has been the honest endeavour of so many athletes from around the globe. The bad and the ugly are not for comment within this blog.
During the first week of the Olympics I was visiting family in South West Ireland. An Irish Olympic medal is a rare event, so when two brothers from near the area I grew up in won silver in the men’s double sculls, rowing event, it was a big deal.
So, what is the point of referring to the O’Donovan brothers here? Well, it is the ‘sensation’ caused by their post-race interviews with RTE, the Irish national broadcaster. In an era where elite sport, like anything else in the public domain is mediated by the media, complicated by sophistry and used as a vehicle for ego massage of various dimensions, these two young me were a breath of fresh air.
In their post final interview the brothers were interviewed for the first segment, and then their trainers were brought into the shot, in a piece of media staged presentation. I can only imagine it caused some chagrin to the media people when one of the brothers explained to viewers that these guys had been there all along but hey were only moved in to shot at that point. However, for me the brothers’ best line was when asked about race strategy and tactics. In an era when elite sport is awash with psychologists, nutritionists, bio-mechanics experts and coaches etc…, one of the brothers explained their strategy as “close your eyes and pull like a dog”.
Similarly, when doing research or other professional work we have an ever-increasing tendency to talk about strategies, variables, management techniques, visions, mission statements etc… However, in order to optimise performance there always comes a time when a person has to strip everything back to the basics, focus on the task at hand away from all distractions and essentially “close your eyes and pull like a dog”.
All too often I see research students and professionals struggling to find real focus. They are distracted by peripheral things; e.g. meetings that achieve little, email tennis with no tangible outcome, phone calls that go nowhere helpful, strategy planning sessions that do not really take on the customer perspective etc… How often have you heard someone, either on the phone or face-to-face, say “did you get my email? It seems reasonably safe to assume that there is some wasted communication resource in that type of scenario.
We seem to have forgotten that in any project we should have some outcomes and a means to achieving these. It is worth asking ourselves, what resources do I really need to employ here? Is what I am doing now necessary, and/or helpful, and/or going to move the situation forward? Surely life is too short for engaging in peripheral, unhelpful activities, and sometimes it is far more economical of resources to: 1. Identify what really needs to be done; 2. Determine the optimum means of doing it; 3. access the necessary resources; 4. then “close your and pull like a dog”, to achieve the optimum input/outcome ratio.