PonderThis: Choose the Battle. Win the War

In the 1908 London Olympic games a top rated springboard diver attempted a front double somersault over the objections and warnings of the judges.  He failed the dive and the official report recommended banning it from competition as too risky. He lost his medal bid, but began a process that placed diving on the short list of thrilling sports to watch. Today, the accomplished high school diver regularly throws a front 2 ½ somersaults from the 1 meter springboard.  In fact, by 2004 at least one high schooler was practicing 3 ½’s as a warm up to his 4 ½ front somersault from the 3 meter springboard.

Jonny Mosely, Olympic and World Cup skier pushed the envelope and the rules for freestyle mogul skiing when he introduced the  “Dinner Roll” at the 2002 Winter Olympics.  ( I assume the name comes from what is going on in the digestive tract of anyone who attempts this, “…off axis 720 degree spin”.) In the video from the WSJ below, Mosely explains not only how, but why he decided to tempt fate with the judges.  Mosely traded Olympic glory and the near term financial gain for the advancement of the sport and longer term term personal prospects.

In February, snowboarder Shaun White will face the same choice: advance the sport or play it safe with a conservative Olympic committee.  Or, can he do both?

Leaders face risk every day.  Decisions that serve the larger vision of the organization may require guts and self sacrifice that we do not often see in tough times.  For Mosely, the “both / and” solution was to advance the sport and stay connected.  He took 4th place because the judges dinged him on an unapproved move.  He hated that.  No one who competes at that level loves 4th place.

But the Dinner Roll is now a standard for freestyle mogul skiers.  And while Mosley may have sacrificed the near term marketing opportunities afforded to an Olympic gold medalist, he has won a larger prize and potentially a longer-term, more sustainable financial gain.

The old saw says “Win the battle… lose the war.”  The possibility to create a more robust outcome may lie in tweaking the language a bit.  “Choose the battle… win the war.”

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