Consider this: Over the past 30 years, the Caribbean Islands have produced an unusual amount of sprinting champions.
In addition, in 75 years, Jamaica has won 42 Commonwealth golds and 14 Olympic gold medals. During the last Olympics, Jamaica took all pole positions in the 200m to achieve an astounding single-nation flag raising celebration.
How does a small island nation perform at this level? Jamaica is a country of 2,85 million people. The US has a population of 400 million people. So, the US has a far larger population pool from which to pull talent. And it has much deeper tax revenues with which to support athletes and dominate the competition. So why do Jamaicans routinely beat Americans?
This is not an anomaly. In the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s, the US was losing more than its fair share of sprint and middle-distance races to the United Kingdom.
The UK, of course, also had a much smaller population than the US. So, does size matter, and what can entrepreneurs learn from these examples?
Notice that Jamaica is not beating the US at the bobsled contest in the Winter Olympics. Whilst Cool Runnings is a very entertaining movie with many iconic scenes, Jamaica has understood its best odds at building a formidable team that is able to compete beyond its structural constraints is if it focuses on a single pursuit. Be the best at one thing, rather than mediocre at many.
Nobody arrives at the place of competence without deliberate and consistent effort over a period of time. Effort + Time = Competence.
Athletics is part of Jamaica’s tuition in public schools. From early primary school, learners are imbued in the culture of athletic excellence as a part of their Jamaican heritage. Introducing children to the sport in their formative years means that they understand the commitment required to reach proficiency in athletics.
Usain Bolt didn’t even make the semi-finals of the Athens Olympics, his first Olympian outing. Many thought that he didn’t have the temperament to compete in the world’s most prestigious event. However, after many races (as well as a car accident and a string of injuries) Usain Bolt recorded the fastest time in more than three thousand years of Olympics history in Beijing.
The ‘arch of success’ is exactly that, an arch. It is not a linear function of victories and podium finishes. It is full of injuries, frustrations, mishaps, doubt, fear — but never resignation to mediocrity.
Have you noticed the build of the people (specifically men) from Jamaica is very similar? There is very little difference in their height. Being an island nation, they have a similar diet across the narrow expanse of the country.
Couple this with the fact that Jamaica was a slave island where the strongest slaves of West Africa were traded.
These brutal slave traders didn’t understand the impact they would have on the world of modern sports. A small country. A deep national culture of sports. A strong gene pool, and similar diet across the country has birthed arguably the fastest men and women on earth.
When there is homogeneity and singularity in how you do business (culture), in why you are in business (higher purpose) then size ceases to matter.
As managers and leaders, you will fight with players bigger than you and far better resourced. With homogeneity in organisational culture and purpose, you could neutralise their advantage.
As you build your business and face tough market forces, competitors that are far better resourced, customers that are as disloyal as they are unforgiving and the omnipresent mental demon of self-doubt, remember that small can (and often does) trump big. Focus on a single thing. Embrace the lessons along the way. Build a homogeneous team.
Vusi Thembekwayo Speaker. Investor. Disruptor