The Olympics are a metaphor for the all the possibilities for greatness and goodness in humankind, a fusion of muscle, intelligence and focused intention, striving ever higher in the quest for human excellence.
Yet, at the ultimate point of reckoning, in ourselves and in the world at large, the Olympics are also a collective experience we can use and appreciate to understand it’s the small actions that make that excellence what it is.
Great Olympian moments are made of the individual, selfless contributions of volunteers and athletes, people who understand the ideal of the games and are emotionally committed to it, and from the micro-moments of performance that can edge us over the winning line of new frontiers.
At a personal level, the Olympics have always meant a great deal to me. They’re being held this year in London in the shadow of my old home in the East End which I still have. That inter-relationship became more significant when missiles were stationed on the roof, it’s on the top floor. On the day of the LA Olympics I got married, on the night of the opening ceremony in Beijing, Visceral Business got its name. Showtime in London was always going to be a symbolic event for me, a special occasion.
But a week ago I had no idea I was going to be there in the Stadium at the Opening Ceremony. That chance came to life through a series of those precious acts of randomness that special moments are all about. Life’s unexpectedness even managed to throw in the bonus of seeing the torch on its last leg from Hampton Court to London in the morning just a few hours before. On the way to Teddington to run a Facebook workshop, events conspired. Maybe the visceral energy of that deep connectedness had something to do with it.
Because it’s a visceral experience, it’s always fascinated me to know what it feels like to be there, right in the eye of the world’s energy and attention, to bear witness. In that sense something like an Olympics Opening Ceremony is like no other. Set apart from those catastrophes where the world holds its breath and that bind us by accident, the Olympics are unity by design – an open inclusive experience in which people can connect, contribute, respond and co-create a global, dynamic beat.
It’s the greatest example of social organisation of its kind, a coming together that’s both intimate and enormous in how it moves people as individuals and collectively. Being designed to be inspirational for a generation means we take it in – quite literally – we inspire, and those formative moments can make an impression that can happen in an instant, and last a lifetime.
When the time came for London 2012 to show its form on opening night, by all accounts it came up to the mark of Beijing by delivering a timely message, as well as a piece of niche marketing at its best. It was a show that expressed and celebrated the essence of Great Britain’s identity in its own idiosyncratic and individualistic way.
Danny Boyle’s ceremony was a mixture of quirky, creative inventiveness and initiative, of humour under pressure and in times of austerity, a conscience and concern for the welfare of humanity and the greater good, the courage and daring to be different and to push a few boundaries.
The best ceremonies, rituals, cultures and organisations reflect out the intentions of everything and all that goes into them. Their cultural significance comes from the way they act like the white heat of a mirror reflecting the rays within ourselves. Through that they create shared value, they give people confidence by shining back what’s possible, the benefits of being more than the sum of the parts together. And so it was with this ceremony, a statement from the flash of the opening pixels to the fire of the cauldron that it’s the many individual perspectives that can make a culture a truly great one.
The impact on the senses that the excitement of sport has moves the dial in us and makes us aware of what can be conceived that lies within. The Olympics are that quintessential global social experience that makes an impression on us as a connected planet through sight, sound, movement, media, and how these moments makes us feel.
When it looked like sponsorship lockdown was going to short-circuit all the human exuberance, and when the no-shows on the seating plan exposed the idea that you can buy deep and meaningful support, with the London 2012 Olympics Danny Boyle’s creative leadership, an impassioned urge for unconventional expression and imagination, saved the day.
The take-out of the Opening Ceremony is its plurality and inclusive involvement inspired by totemic leadership that we should recognize as a vital ingredient of success not restrictive practices. As business and organizations become more social, the business models that rely on support of the big few increasingly don’t gel well and need revisiting. As we shift from the industrial to social revolution, it might be the case that what matters for social businesses is they’re really about ‘is us’, that Tim Berners-Lee founding ethos of the internet, that ‘this is for everyone’ is centre stage.
We’re learning that the depth and breadth of human expression, people participation and the occasional piece of irreverent humour for a brand can be productive. Even the Queen gets it. These are the kind of attributes of social business as human business, as visceral business, that can switch on the kind of lifeblood capable of supporting and sustaining diversity and opportunity. These are ingredients more moving than regulation, because they can be the ingredients of transformation.
Many moments from the London 2012 Opening ceremony night are now etched onto my memory. As little torches, we take these moments on. When they become meaningful at a deep level, they literally become things that matter. They become a part of our existence, a beating pulse, a flame within us, a part of what we are.