Flying out to New York yesterday to meet up with BJ – we’re here revising drafts of the book we’re bringing out next year – I read the newly-published autobiography of Seb Coe, the record-breaking medal-winning athlete who went on to chair the London 2012 Olympic bid and project so brilliantly. A few quotes caught my eye, that seem relevant to proposal folks:
- “Raw talent will only take you so far, and moving beyond it is never going to be comfortable.” Itis sometimes difficult to persuade people of the need to change the status quo: necessary upheaval when “it’s worked OK in the past” can take people out of their comfort zones.
- “Excellence doesn’t come cheap.” Quite – if you’re serious about winning the deal, and committed to improving your proposal capabilities, that requires investment of time, energy and money.
- “For an athlete, to walk off the track knowing in your heart of hearts that you just ran badly is the worst possible way to face defeat.” Same with proposals: you will lose some, but the ones that hurt are the ones where you just know things could have been better if there’d been more resource, greater executive sponsorship, more commitment…
- “We had positioned our bid around young people. In stark contrast to the other four bids, our presentation was not about what the Olympics could do for London, but rather what London could do for the Olympic movement.” Differentiation, client benefits – so key!
- “It is critical in any organisation to have strong leaders who will take responsibility for the actions of anyone in the organisation and let the buck stop with them.” Whether leading a proposal team, or explaining their role to an executive sponsor, or managing a proposal centre (when loyalty to and protection or defence of one’s staff is so essential), this really rings true.
- For their bid presentation: “we argued the toss over every last dot and comma. It was ball-breaking but we just kept on honing it until it was perfect.” Deals don’t come any more “must win” than hosting the Olympics, but there are lessons there for all of us about the pursuit and value of excellence.
- Before the presentation to the IOC: ”Word had it that our rivals had been severely fazed on discovering that we’d already been in Singapore for a week. It made us look organised, planned, ready for war, which we were.” Unsettling the competitors: an interesting tactic for any bid team!
- On his own part in the bid presentation: “If there is one word in those five minutes that any other bid leader can say, then I’m not nailing this properly”. ‘Me too’ is too common in many proposals and ensuing presentations.