The Opening Ceremony – and a little bit of trust


So what was your favourite part of the opening ceremony? The history? The humour? The tribute to the NHS? The sheer spectacle?

It’s difficult to know where to begin. I thought it was brilliant. The forged rings joining together; Steve Redgrave handing the torch over to the seven young athletes; HRH and James Bond; Mr Bean… I’m not ashamed to say that I shed a tear or two.

And yes, there were parts I didn’t like that much – I thought the tribute to the NHS was over-long and if you weren’t British it was probably incomprehensible. But so what? We were told that we could never beat Beijing. Well go here and have a look. I would humbly contend that we knocked them into a cocked hat. We told a story, we connected with people – and we were brave enough to laugh at ourselves.

Of course, not everyone liked the opening ceremony. You may be familiar with the controversy surrounding the tweets of Tory MP Aidan Burley. A couple of people have said to me ‘Why so much emphasis on the NHS compared to British enterprise?’ Plenty of people pointed out that Paul McCartney may be fractionally past his best. The opening ceremony was emphatically Danny Boyle’s creation – and it was never going to please everyone.

It would have been easy for LOCOG or the Government to interfere. There must have been parts of the ceremony they would have changed.

But in the week in which the three girl members of Pussy Riot go on trial effectively accused of criticising Vladimir Putin I’m damn proud to live in a country where they didn’t interfere; where we could disagree with parts of the opening ceremony – and where we’re free to say so.

I’m also full of admiration for the fact that someone had the courage to say to Danny Boyle, “Here’s the money. Go ahead. We’ll give you free rein.” Knowing Danny Boyle’s political leanings, that must have been a very hard thing for Messrs Coe and Cameron to do…

But you can’t cherry pick the parts you like. With something like the opening ceremony, you have to accept the whole. Sometimes you have to say, ‘You’re hired to do the job. Get on and do it.’ And that holds good whether you’re putting on a show for a billion people – or running a business in North Yorkshire.

Giving someone in your business authority – real authority, which means you won’t interfere and you’ll stand by the decisions they make – can be very difficult.

But it’s like being a parent – if your children are to grow as people, you have to gradually let go. Give them more and more free rein and – above all – trust them. It’s easy for me to say that: I don’t have teenagers yet (although I can see one lurking in the shadows). But I hope that when the temptations of alcohol and girls appear I’ll remember to re-read this post. Because if our boys are to grow they have to take decisions and they have to make mistakes. And if your business is to grow you have to trust someone to make a decision – and they have to make mistakes.

It’s another business quotation that’s become a cliché, but the man who has never made a mistake has never made anything.

Stepping back and giving up some control isn’t easy – but there comes a time when it’s essential. Like LOCOG and Danny Boyle, you may not get quite what you expected – but you might just get something truly spectacular.

With that I’ll sit back and wait for the athletics, and our gradual climb up the medals table. Enjoy your weekend – and let the grass grow. It’s only once every four years…

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8 comments

  1. Rory Ryan · August 3, 2012

    1. As an Irishman looking in I thought it was phenomenal.
    2. Gradual climb up the medals table? Not if yesterday was anything to go by!
    3. 5 rings being forged and coming together was the best part IMHO.

  2. JOHN B · August 3, 2012

    Hi Ed. Great blog. I am looking forward to the day when you right something I disagree with so we can have a real set to!
    However, I agree that the opening ceremony was fantastic and it illustrated that, when you give someone the authority, more often than not it works out fine and the benefits far outway the personal loss of involvement.
    On a very personal level, I found the inclusion of Mohammed Ali extremely upsetting. In fact I had to leave the room because, in the emotion of the event, I could not face the sight of one of my sporting heroes struck by such a debilitating condition and did not see the relevence of his participation. Perthaps that says more about me than the situation.

  3. Dave Rawlings · August 3, 2012

    I too was upset to see “The Greatest” in such a bad state. But then I remembered that we first saw Cassius Clay fighting in the Olympics (forget which year) and so he had more right than most people to be there. The fact that he chose not to hide himself away proves he’s still a great man.
    Re letting go – my daughter passed her driving test recently and I was really worried about her going out on the road alone. After her first solo drive she remarked on how much easier it had been without a stressed parent distracting her!

  4. Cath Blakey · August 3, 2012

    Live and business live are so closely related and so many lessons to learn!! But then if you stop learning you stop living. Parenting I find harder than running my business but then I do have the grumpy teenager to worry about! But right now, lets enjoy the Olympics, the sun shining, oh and my grumpy teenager smiled at me this morning!

  5. Tom Hiskey · August 3, 2012

    Aidan Burley is a buffoon — it was fantastic.

  6. Michelle Mook · August 3, 2012

    Couldn’t agree more Ed with all your comments (as always!)

    Letting go is one of the most challenging things for any business owner, leader, manager or parent to do – but when you do – when you really trust – when you empower others to make their own decisions and choices – wow – the results can be amazing – people can shine in ways that you never expected – it can be the best feeling in the world.

    Think I recall our soon to be teenagers are the same age so perhaps we can keep reminding each other about letting them make their own mistakes! But it also reminded me that when you let go and give others free rein – we often learn from them as well. Our way isn’t always the best!! As my son once said to me (and I now often use it both myself and with others) – sometimes it’s best to “zip it, lock it, put it in your pocket”! Listen, watch and learn … then be proud that you’ve given others the opportunities they deserve.

  7. Andy Gambles (@andygambles) · August 4, 2012

    Have you ever rung customer service with a simple query and got “I will have to refer to my manager” or “I will need to escalate your refund request”?

    I have and I hate it. With that I have recently decided to give my employee the ability to give instant refunds/credits where he sees this as appropriate.

    I want to install the mantra “Do whatever you believe is best for the customer and the company” without the need for getting approval or worrying you made the wrong choice.

    It is a scary thought to think I’ve just given someone else the power to refund thousands of pounds. But I hope it means we rank even better for customer experience and can continue to grow with limited restraints.

  8. Great blog Ed. I loved the opening ceremony and yes there were a couple of parts that dragged on a little but they were totally outweighed by the sheer spectable of the forged rings and the lighting of the torch – absolutely wonderful! Your point about having to let someone get on with a job without intefering and letting them make the necessary decisions is right but not easy – as a small business owner it is really hard to let go and give someone else the responsibility to keep things ticking over just as you like them. But you are right Ed without other people nothing would grow and develop and no new innovations and ideas would be generated.

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