Because of the three-hour time diff and my nocturnal habits, I was able to take in WAY more of the Vancouver Olympic Games than I thought I was gonna. And what really struck me after two weeks or so of thrills of victory and agonies of defeat was the precarious relationship between the two...
...particularly as it pertains to the Silver medal.
Nike took a lot of heat during the 1996 Atlanta Games with its controversial slogan "You don't win Silver, you lose Gold." Truth is, in many cases, Nike was right.
To an athlete part of a team that goes down to defeat in a winner-take-all Gold Medal match, Silver means less than a wad of tinfoil. It's a constant, nagging reminder of getting to the gates of the promised land, but not being allowed in. Just ask the despondent American hockey teams of both sexes, or teary Canadian Curling Skip Cheryl Bernard. In this case, Silver = letdown.
However, to an athlete racing down a hill, or flying above an ice surface, or hurtling down a track, only to be edged out by someone going infinitesimally faster or with slightly more grace, a Silver is priceless. In fact, instead of the zero-sum game of team sports, you see a camaraderie that culminates with a group hug on the medals podium.
Hmmm...same medal. But the emotions surrounding its procurement are on polar opposite ends of the psyche scale.
(Don't even get me started on the Bronze. I was in Lake Placid over the weekend and saw the whole town come together--parade and all--to greet Andrew Weibrecht, Mens Super G Bronzer, and mob him at a Whiteface Mountain autograph session. Then there's the ecstasy of the Finnish hockey team, who reacted to the Bronze Medal win as if were for an other-worldly Diamond pendant. And of course, will we ever forget THE story of the Games, Joannie Rochette's heart-tugging, uber-emotional, Bronze-winning skate performance?)
The difference? No, it's not about expectations, although they play a factor.
I think the difference in value of the schizophrenic Silver lies in how the competition for it is measured.
In other words, if you're ultimately battling the clock or being judged (skiing, snowboarding, figure-skating, bobsled, track & field, etc.), a Silver is a win. It's an individual triumph.
If you're engaged in a head-to-head against others (hockey, curling, basketball, etc.), a Silver is a loss. It's a team failure.
So, what's this all mean?
First of all, taking this into account, perhaps the IOC could re-think the value of team vs. individual medals. Perhaps there could be peace in the Middle East and a cure for cancer too, because those are likely to happen way before the IOC changes the way it awards medals.
Secondly and more importantly, in business, I think I've learned hot to use the disparate value of the Silver to motivate my teammates and staff.
If we're up a deadline or an numeric objective, let's always aim for the top of the podium...but not kill each other if we "miss it by that much."
But, if we're up against the competition in an us-or-them situation...then it's Gold or nothing, bay-bah!
All that glitters may not be Gold, but Silver shines...sometimes.