Everything I learned from observing the 2016 Summer Olympics has very little to do with athletic endeavors and far more to do with common sense mandates that normal people might have erroneously thought were already part of the thinking adult's toolbox.
But, no, apparently that wasn't the case as one egregious incident after another so horrifyingly proved.
Shut Up, Be Honest, Be Serious
So it is with only mild trepidation that I dare to state the obvious and reiterate the key points I have learned from watching the games and the weird, juvenile circus surrounding them.
They're useful lessons that may help you avoid unpleasant interactions in the workplace and beyond.
Pretend you're in a library and just keep quiet
Seriously, say nothing. Because clearly, the normal, rational filters that humans used to have melted with global warming.
Case in point: Al Trautwig, NBC’s gymnastics announcer at the Rio Games, who suggested that Gold Medal gymnast Simone Biles’ parents through adoption are not really her parents. Ron and Nellie Biles adopted Simone and her younger sister, Adria, in 2001. Shanon Biles, the girls' biological mother and Ron’s daughter, had struggled with drugs and alcohol.
Trautwig referred to Ron Biles and his wife Nellie as Biles’ grandparents on Sunday’s NBC primetime broadcast. When a woman tweeted Trautwig to say that he should call them her parents, he tweeted: “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.”
Trautwig later apologized, but saying, "I'm sorry" never removes the sting of an insult.
It's really hard to lie in a world full of cameras
Before you fabricate a story — especially a story that's likely to generate international headlines because you're a celebrity of sorts like Ryan Lochte — consider the fact that you live in a digital world where every single person including the 10-year-old passing by on his bicycle has the ability to post real-time video of what you actually did.
And odds are, when something happens, someone involved will discuss it with at least one other person by text or email or Slack or Facebook messenger … The point is just be honest. Because everyone has sympathy for a screw-up, but no one likes a liar.
Don't tell a woman she'd look better in make-up — especially if you are a middle-aged man
On the heels of a suggestion to be honest, I'm just going to embed the following video. Because if I tell you two guys actually suggested the whole point of the Olympics — the whole reason for years of training — was for female athletes to get product endorsements from cosmetic companies, you would call me a liar.
So here you go. And please: Just don't. Ever. Never tell a woman to wear make-up, especially one who could beat you shamelessly in any sport she dared to engage in.
Restrain your natural sarcastic wit and wry sense of humor, no matter how entertaining
This is personally a hard one for me to write. I am the master of the inappropriate joke — the misplaced scary clown at your window joke, the too loudly uttered "I'm done, stab me with a fork" during an extra long meeting.
But alas, I must face my own failings — which I recognized oh so well in "Zika Proof" Hope Solo, the American soccer goalkeeper who was jeered throughout the United States’ opening game against New Zealand on Aug. 3.
Every time she touched the ball, the fans yelled Zeeee-KAAAAA. Admittedly, Solo went too far — when she ultimately called the Swedish team “a bunch of cowards” for the defensive playing style they employed in the quarterfinal. But the point is humor is a weapon, best used defensively, and (note to self) very, very carefully.
Olympic Lessons from Wharton Professors
To be fair, there are people much smarter, more erudite, more thoughtful than I who have distilled the lessons from the summer games into inspiring, motivational messages.
Take, for example, Mario Moussa and Derek Newberry from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Moussa, who teaches in the Executive Programs at Wharton School of Executive Education, and Newberry, a lecturer at the Wharton School, are co-authors of Committed Teams: Three Steps to Inspiring Passion and Performance.
They've concluded that the biggest story from the Olympic Games is innovation — and that all of us can benefit from "innovating like an Olympian at the Office."
"By following a few Olympic-level innovation principles, you too can medal in the grueling workplace competitions," they suggest. Here's how:
Seek group support for your individual creativity
American gold medalist Simone Biles had a unique routine that required less running and allowed her to do more tumbling than other gymnasts. It is this innovative combination of roundoff, back handspring, double layout, half-turn and landing — along with the Stag Sissone she adds after the landing — a jump her Coach Aimee Boorman describes as a “simple skill” — that helped her earn the title as the world's best.
Where most competitors won by fractions of a point, Biles won by one or two points. Such dominance has its roots in the training regimen developed by the U.S. women’s national team coordinator, Martha Karolyi.
Earlier and less successful gymnastics “teams” were really just collections of individuals. Karolyi manages to inspire both individual achievement and a strong commitment to the group. One reinforces the other. “We were expected to compete as a team overseas [but] you’re still an individual,” says Rhonda Faehn, senior vice president of the women’s team and a former gymnast.
Build on the innovation that others have already discovered
Decades of innovation paved the way for swimmer Michael Phelps dominance. Phelps has benefited from innovations that go back at least to David Armbruster, who from 1917 to 1958 coached the University of Iowa swim team. According to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Armbruster first saw a demonstration of a technique in 1911 which he encouraged his swimmers to use in the 1930s instead of the traditional frog kick.
A swimmer at University of Iowa, Jack Sieg, further refined the kick, which when combined with Armbruster's approach laid the foundation for the modern butterfly, sometimes called the dolphin kick.
Others played a role in the development of the dolphin kick, including the physicist Volney Wilson, who was a swimming enthusiast as well as a contributor to the WWII project that produced the first atomic bomb. More recently, a Johns Hopkins professor of Mechanical Engineering has taken an interest in analyzing the stroke and lends his technical support to the U.S. swim team.
Dream, and then work like crazy
Daniel James Brown, in his book, "The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics," recounts a scene in which the University of Washington coach conceives of the audacious goal of defeating the top U.S. rowing teams and pulling all the way through to the 1936 Olympic Gold Medal in Munich.
Unsurprisingly, years of all-consuming toil separated that inspiring reverie on the banks of Lake Washington and the historic moment the Americans became world champions under Hitler's baleful gaze. You should never forget that the effort turns dreams into reality. While many breakthroughs begin with an idea, the ones that make a difference are realized through disciplined practice
In the end, the Olympics showcases the merits of individual achievement — of unique, unforgettable achievement. Of doing the impossible ... of surprising people with your audacity and creativity. With that in mind, go forth and be bold, like Japanese wrestler Risako Kawai, 21, who had one of the best reactions to winning a gold medal in Rio. She picked up her 56-year-old coach, Kazuhito Sakae, and slammed him on the ground — twice.
Try that the next time your meeting lasts a little too long ...