The Olympics serve as the greatest sports event and as one of the most important conferences in the world at the same time. Over the history, they have been subject to controversy, boycotts and served as squabbling grounds between countries and political blocks. Yet somehow, they managed to survive and not only survive, but thrive. The Olympic institution and brand are stronger today than ever. On the other hand, it’s extremely difficult (impossible even) to single out a company which enjoys a similar amount goodwill today or throughout any point in history for that matter.
In this regard, there is one question worth examining: What are institutions, organizations, and companies but a group of people working united under a common idea? If this were true, then what makes the Olympics brand and ideals so true, grand and worthy of pursuing? On the other hand, what makes companies and organizations struggle, stray away from themselves and even stray from goodness itself?
As any other organization, the Olympic Games have seen their fair share of struggles. First and foremost they exist within the confines of our civilization which is susceptible to misunderstandings, conflicts, and of course war. They survived our two World Wars, all kinds of regimes, terrorist attacks, all sorts of political disputes and boycotts. For example, at the 1980 Moscow games, 62 countries didn’t participate as a result of the Cold War, and this didn’t even put a dent in the Olympic spirit.
The Olympics do not only show extreme resilience in the eyes of serious adversity but as a body, they continuously act accordingly to their established values. South Africa was banned from the Olympic Games from 1964 to 1988, as a part of the sporting boycott during the apartheid era. Saudi Arabia was threatened with a ban in 2012 unless it sends women athletes to compete and this year Russia was banned to participate in the winter games due to a state-run doping program. The International Olympic Committee didn’t ban all the athletes from Russia though. It united them under its flag, as It did for the refugee team in 2016 in Rio. This shows true value-driven integrity: not to discriminate against anyone no matter the circumstances. This value is further strengthened by the existence of the Paralympic Games.
The Olympic Committee is not afraid to make tough decisions and run the risk of being perceived as the “bad guy” in certain countries. The same can’t be readily said for businesses.
Business and states nowadays have almost a symbiotic relationship too. Rightfully so, since it’s in the businesses’ interest to lobby for less regulation, tax, and other breaks. We are well aware that this relationship can get out of hand though. There is daily news of big political corruption scandals involving financial “favors” from a big business. Yet, this is only one sphere where businesses can stray away from the good.
Let’s take Volkswagen as our latest example, which is an appropriate one as well. They are a well-known brand globally and have a long tradition to boot. Although Volkswagen is loved and revered all over the world for their craftsmanship and build quality, recently it was discovered that they cheated their emissions tests on a big scale. More recently even, they were condemned for testing diesel fumes on humans and monkeys!
For me, it is inconceivable that an organization can be true to their values and still manage to act in a vile way. A company that pollutes can’t say they respect women’s rights and if a company has appalling work conditions, it doesn’t get to say they value good design. What’s the use anyway?
We have to keep in mind that the values both organizations and businesses respect are first and foremost human values. As such, they are complementary and interdependent. One can’t choose to have tunnel vision, to respect one and ignore all of the rest.
What gives the Olympics a starting advantage in brand integrity over today’s businesses then? If they were still under Zeus’s patronage, he would have stated something like the following:
1. Know thyself
I remember the shock of discovering that the company I worked for, for my first rebranding project, had no idea who they were and what was their business about. I thought that this would be a no-brainer for bigger companies, but it turned out to be a very big brainer indeed. Luckily dusting off only one core value ( customer service ) was enough to give the company new life and direction. The same goes for any other business whether it’s a startup or 100 years old. They must be aware of who they are and what they are about.
2. Nothing is more important than human decency
These three words are enough to guide you through all of your business decisions, especially the ones which are on the moral fence. Nothing is more important than valuing a person’s wellbeing. But this commandment deserves attention when making simple and apparently harmless decisions too. We often don’t examine our decisions form a broader perspective and we don’t fully consider all of their possible implications.
3. Include, don’t discriminate
It is well known that companies that encourage employee participation in decision-making report having staff who has greater ownership of their workplace and brand. Especially if you include your staff in brand creation, you will get dedicated life-long brand ambassadors which will disseminate your business’s goal, idea, and spirit. Otherwise, you might end up with uninspired employees which feel left out and forgotten.
4. Have a simple, fair and transparent rulebook
Sports are very simple to follow. That’s one of the reasons why everybody can follow them. By nature, they are open and accessible for everybody. This transparency allows anybody to witness what’s going on on the field or the track. Anybody can be a direct judge and this, in turn, creates the need for fairness.
A business is made of many individuals with varied backgrounds and capabilities. Having simple rules makes the system accessible and understandable for everybody. Fairness and transparency in employee treatment are key for achieving trust, confidence and long-term stability of your business.
5. Be larger than the sum of your parts
The Olympics aren’t organized in a traditional sense. Although they have their Committee and headquarters they appear and disappear into thin air every 4 years. They are more of an idea than a tangible “thing”. Same goes for any business that strives to be written in history and make a difference. Trough your business you realize the idea you have for the world so, to have a chance at greatness, your idea has to be attractive and universal enough to outlast you and your direct successors.
I am a brand strategist, designer, and content manager. My philosophy is that brands are intrinsically human, and can’t ultimately be treated with classic business and marketing strategies. To have truly successful brands we need to know our human selves and listen to our human hearts.
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