Before you make snarky comments about the title of this post (and yes, I’ve thought of a half dozen myself), think about this quote from a recent Wall Street Journal article about why the US curling team failed to medal in the Olympics:

“We never really got on one path,” says Rick Patzke, the chief operating officer for USA Curling, who said there was never any cohesive plan in place to win and that the training ahead of these Games was essentially a write-off. “There wasn’t total buy-in,” he says. By the time the Olympics came around, Mr. Patzke adds, USA Curling was resigned to the fact that it was really preparing for 2014. “We started with Sochi and we worked backward,” he says.

If you read the rest of the article, you’ll see several patterns that are far from unique to the odd-ball world of curling:

  • Increased Competition: Curling has enjoyed a worldwide increase in popularity.  Countries who used to be non-factors have begun to invest in developing teams who can challenge the traditional powers for honors.
  • Stagnation: The US used the same method to select and develop its team as it had in the past.  It had paid results in the past, so leaders initially assumed the same old way would deliver similar or better results.  Other countries used different methods and benefited.
  • Desperation Plays: After realizing that they were behind, the US team invested heavily in trying to make the existing model successful.  Ironically, they plowed more money and effort in than ever before, but the investment was too late.  This team under this model couldn’t compete with the rising competition.
  • Resignation: As the COO says above, the team realized it had little chance in Vancouver and had to cede their position as a leader to others.

Now, remove this storyline from curling and it almost perfectly describes the cycle that so many organizations – especially successful ones – endure.  Unless an organization regularly steps back, examines what others – especially the upstarts – are doing differently, discerns the trends, and acts in time, they can miss an opportunity to achieve their vision.  As master planner Tom Paterson says,

Discover the truth or it will bite you in the behind.

The silver lining for US Curling? They’re now focused on 2014 and have a renewed motivation to achieve their potential at that time.  Falling short can do that to you – but even better if we can avoid those painful lessons with a little foresight.