Forty years ago I visited the Olympics. My week in Munich commenced with the giddiness of country come to town. The enthusiasm and diversity that are the Olympics brought together world class athletes and world-class competition. I was there for the "happy week," described as the first week, when almost all athletes still have a chance at a gold medal.
(Fortunately, I was gone before the terror attacks against Israeli athletes and officials left 11 dead.)
This month I spent some time watching the 2012 games on TV, enjoying the festivities and marveling at the athleticism. Watching the games you'll see greatness -- individuals and teams with exceptional gifts, discipline, commitment and a lifetime of preparation.
I was particularly mesmerized by the synchronized diving and synchronized swimming competitions. To witness one person doing great things is the norm at the Olympics -- to watch two individuals, perfectly aligned and in total harmony dive and hit the water without a splash is magic. To watch a team of eight swimmers mirror themselves and each other while underwater is magic on steroids.
Think I'm exaggerating? Look at your office. Most folks there are doing the same thing and compared to diving and swimming what they are doing is real easy. Many have been doing the same thing for years -- some for their entire career.
They are not underwater, nobody is timing or judging them and there are no expectations of greatness. You'd think it would be easy to work together yet more often than not there is chaos -- either visible or bubbling just below the surface. Have you ever wondered why? Have you ever considered why not?
As I reach the half way point of this article let me clearly state the parallel between your business and Olympic competition -- between your agency and the best in the world at synchronization.
Here's reality in yesterday's world (think the 1960-1990). Yours was sandlot ball. You competed in your neighborhood. You were a "Main Street Agent" and your competition was the guy or gal down the street or maybe at most 100 miles down the highway. You represented the same companies, products and services -- your relationship and maybe some unique expertise or experiences were the only differentiators.
Today (1990-2012), you have become aware that you are now playing in a larger sandbox. National brokers have invaded your turf, direct writers have chipped away at your local community. "Your own" independent agency companies are now using the Internet to compete against you -- even though you've been their trusted source of delivery for decades. Now associations, PEOs and others are offering competing programs and larger employers are choosing to self-fund some of what you do. Times change...
Tomorrow (think 2020) will be different. It will be like the Olympics. Competition will be global. Only the best and most competitive will have any chance of winning. There will be no room for old, slow, tired or sameness. World class will be the minimum standard. Being local, friendly and above average will no longer be enough.
One of the biggest differences is that the audience in the stands (the people you are selling to) will be different than those that you have sold to in the past. "Little Johnny" or "Little Janie" are now decision makers in the businesses you insure. They don't eat at the City Club, belong to the PTA or enjoy playing golf. You're friends with their parents -- not them.
Their friends (and business associates) are as likely to be across the ocean as they are to be across the street. Today they can buy imports from China. Tomorrow they can buy their insurance there or sell their services in China. What will make matters worse (or better if you are competent and competitive) they are teaching their parents to shop online -- to use technology to their advantage rather than depending upon the "old way of doing things." One thing is certain they aren't learning how to shop from their parents (like we did).
In the July/August 2012 edition of Mental Floss a short article by Patrick Cain exposes "The Secrets of Synchronized Swimming." If you plan to compete in tomorrow's Commercial Olympics you may want to consider or better yet, develop such talent and skills. If you make it to the winner's platform in 2020, thank Mr. Cain.
His observations include how you look (to the audience), being constantly in communication with your team, flexibility, intense training (6 to 7 hours in the pool, plus time in the gym), and starting young (the aforementioned Johnny and Janie have been using technology since they were infants).
Consider competition in 2020. If my ideas are wrong, then you are OK as is. If I'm right, you'd better get in world class shape quickly. Really quickly!
September 10, 2012
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