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The fourth lane: Adrian Moorhouse on going for gold in business


Sport as a metaphor for success has never held such currency and as we welcome home the GB heroes from China and look forward to 2012 it takes on renewed meaning. Annie Hayes interviewed Adrian Moorhouse - an Olympic gold medal winner from 1988 - on his return from commentating at the Beijing Olympics to find out more.

Adrian Moorhouse is undeniably one of Britain's greatest sporting heroes. Best known for winning a gold medal at the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988 he was also world number one in his event for six consecutive years. His success in sport was honoured with an MBE in 1987.

Photo of Adrian Moorhouse"Phelps knew what times he wanted to swim each race in and that's how he got there. It's a stress management technique. You think about a particular goal - not winning the race."

Adrian Moorhouse on Michael Phelps, the Beijing Olympics swimming hero

Moorhouse - pictured swimming in the photo above - retired from the international swimming circuit aged 28 after 12 years as an elite performer. Today he commentates on his sport for the BBC and in 1995 he co-founded Lane4, a leading international performance development consultancy and is now managing director of the business. The company derives its name from the lane in which Moorhouse won his gold medal at the Seoul Olympic Games. The fourth lane is the one allocated to the fastest recorded time in the heats and therefore most likely to produce champions.

Olympic lessons

Moorhouse has recently returned from commentating at the Beijing Olympics and tells me that 'control' is one of the key lessons to have come out of this year's Games: "We can learn a lot from the way Michael Phelps controlled himself at the Olympics. In the press conferences before the races the media were asking him whether he'd break Mark Spitz records and win eight golds and Phelps never gave in, he said he would be focusing on the individual races."

Process goal-setting is the lesson here, explains Moorhouse, who doesn't deny that the bigger picture is important but says that understanding how to get there is even more crucial: "Phelps knew what times he wanted to swim each race in and that's how he got there. It's a stress management technique. You think about a particular goal - not winning the race." And, says Moorhouse, it's a mistake that businesses often make – focusing too much time and energy on 'trotting out those KPIs' and goals of reaching '$100m revenue' by x date.

"You have to think about what you 'can' command. It's more than just being positive. There was an edge and ruthlessness about the GB team that helped them along this year," says Moorhouse - who believes there are two types of people, the ones that believe they can do things 'differently' next time when things go wrong, and the ones that play the blame game – on their coach, lack of time and funding. The latter group are rarely the ones that make it to the top, believes Moorhouse. So what part does talent play in sport and what part does training play? Are the Michael Phelps of the world going to win whether there is a coach driving them on or not?

The talent ingredient

"There are different levels of talent in sport, some win because they work harder than those with more talent that do less. Michael Phelps had both raw talent and worked extremely hard," says Moorhouse who knows only too well that talent alone is not enough. From the ages of seven to 28, he trained tirelessly at his sport involving a gruelling three hours every morning, one hour in the gym and a further two and a half hours in the evening.

"It's the job," says Moorhouse lightly. The definition of 'hard work' for an Olympian blows most people's out of the water. Yet hard work and even raw talent are not enough to propel sporting and corporate champions onto the winner's podium. As Moorhouse explains that the role of the coach has an enormous amount to do with the end result.

The role of the trainer

"The coach or trainer is critical. They are the 'filter', if the 'filter' is no good the guidance is wasted."

Adrian Moorhouse on the role of the coach or trainer in sport

"The coach or trainer is critical. They are the 'filter', if the 'filter' is no good the guidance is wasted." Moorhouse believes the same is true in business and says that businesses must recognise that everyone has a talent for something, as a self-confessed loather of 'Top 100 talent programmes' it's no surprise that Moorhouse believes that at some level everyone has a talent. It's part of an open approach that Moorhouse talks of when he looks at the differences between those that are quick to lay the blame at someone else's door when things go wrong and those that are determined to try again with a different tactic.

Moorhouse believes that business has to realise that the way to get out of the economic downturn is to turn their people to their advantage – it's a mindset tool that once again is a differentiator between those that win and those that come second. "There are those that say business is really bad and those that see the downturn as an opportunity." It's a question of perception.

Mental strength

Giving up is another reason many fail and why those that don't, end up taking gold. "There are more people that give up because they think the goal is too far away, but look at how many of our sporting athletes had never tried their sport before, they all had to start somewhere. It's a combination of talent, desire and mental strength."

Even mental strength isn't enough, however, if it acts alone. Moorhouse reflects that in his time, sports kept within their discipline. A lesson from Beijing has been that of collaboration: "Swimming is learning from rowing and coaches are listening to each other from different sports. It's about innovation and it has been a driving force behind this Olympic Games."

Patience is a further Olympic lesson: "The lottery started about 15 years ago and it has taken this long for the investment in sport to pay off." It's a waiting game that Moorhouse believes is worth playing in sport and business where results cannot be expected over night, or not those worth waiting for.

For Moorhouse the years of dealing with pressure and mental toughness have paid dividends in both his sporting and subsequent corporate success. A continual yearning to improve himself and 'do better' has been the driving force behind his Olympic and Lane4 success and it's these tools that he is now imparting to clients including Safeway, Deutsche Bank, the Post Office and Currys - to name but a few - where self-belief, determination and learning not to play the blame game are crucial in beating the competition. Going for gold it would seem is a skill like any other.


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