Sports – Lessons from the Ryder Cup: What can business learn from Europe’s attitude?


History is littered with examples of fortunes turning right at the last moment. In the 1999 UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United, Bayern’s ribbons had already been attached to the trophy when Manchester scored two goals in the very last minutes of the game. In the Ryder Cup and the Champions League final, neither the European team nor Manchester United gave up hope.

Of course this is just sport but the underlying principle is profoundly important for business.

Face the brutal truth

Jim Collins, in “Good to Great” writes about Admiral Stockdale, one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy. Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Collins recalled a conversation with Stockdale about what was the difference between those who survived and those who did not.

He was unequivocal. The optimists died, because they were repeatedly disappointed by the reality of their existence not living up to their hopes. The people who survived were like Stockdale, they never lost faith that they would survive whilst at the same time able to confront the brutal truth of their current circumstance.

Without hope and belief that it is possible to survive and succeed then quite simply, you won’t. But blind faith is not enough. It won’t deal with declining sales or increasing costs. It’s the combination of facing the brutal truth of your current circumstances and dealing with the issues whilst believing you can survive into a better future.

Moments of truth

It’s also about mental resilience. As an ultra distance cyclist I have a sense of what this is about. There is a point in any long distance ride (>300+ miles non-stop) that it all feels like too much. Your body aches, you just want to sleep, in short, you want to give up. These are moments of truth. It’s the point where you decide to give in or carry on. You have every excuse at hand to give in. Your friends and family would understand, you could hold your head up high for the amount you did manage to achieve. But here’s the rub – you still didn’t finish.

If your business, like many, is finding these economic times hard, so too do you have the perfect excuse to quit – it’s the worst recession in decades. At some point you too will reach a moment of truth where you have to decide to carry on or give in.


The question then is how to ensure hope for the future doesn’t become blind faith. Too often business failure creeps up insidiously. It’s too late by the time we realise how bad the situation has become to do anything about it.

Instead, plan for failure. Write yourself some simple rules. For example:
• ‘If sales have not increased ‘X’ by ‘Y’ then we will call a halt’.
• ‘If our reserves drop below ‘Z’ then it’s time to pull down the shutters’.

It’s never too late to work out the rules that work for you and prevent you destroying all you’ve worked for. Once you’ve identified what these ‘rules’ are it feels great because now you are in control of the worst case scenario. So, now you’ve faced the brutal truth, you can turn your attention to being successful. Like the Ryder Cup team, it’s time to do the seemingly impossible.

Dominic Irvine © 2013 All rights asserted