What can an Engineer learn from Usain Bolt?

Though the possibility of it all coming down in a hail of doping accusations remain a possibility (like the recent Lance Armstrong incident), what Usain Bolt has done in Shanghai and London has been nothing short of spectacular. He did not just win 100m, 200m and 4x100m at both the Olympics, he obliterated the competition each and every time. For example, what he did over the last 40m of the 100m final in London was amazing to watch. I have watched the highlights many many times already. Bolt winning in Beijing was one thing, when not everyone was expecting him to win so comprehensively. But when the expectations and the pressure were sky high in London, he did perform brilliantly. A stadium of 80000+ people managed pin-drop silence before the gun went off for the 100m finals and that is how much the expectations were. An event of the magnitude of Olympics, a once in 4 years spectacle, a formidable rival in the form of Yohan Blake and the expectations of the entire world. Thats what I am talking about …

Let me attempt to look for lessons in Bolt’s performance, though what he does for a living and what I do for a living are entirely different.

(01) Dedicated preparation:

We spectators only see the glamorous part of atheletes, when they perform  as if by “magic”. We do not get to see the hours and hours of hard practice and strict diets these atheletes go through. Even the most talented of people (example, Roger Federer) has to practice like a mad man to perform at the levels of a champion. I read some articles and watched some video clippings of Bolt training. For that less-than-10-seconds of performance, Bolt has been preparing for years.

All achievements take a lot of behind-the-scenes work. Dedicated work. Nothing comes for free.

(02) Have fun:

What makes Bolt Bolt is his penchant for fun. Have you seen him just before and after races? He is playing it up for the cameras. Posing, shouting macho stuff, smiling and joking. Not to forget, his trademark “Bolt” pose. He is a showman athelete like no other. But once the Olympics official shouts “Ready”, it is all business. You can see him mentally zone in. Once the performance is completed, it is back to having fun.

Lot of us common folks forget to have fun in our work lives. We should learn to have a right mix of fun at work. It makes all the work challenges that much more manageable.

(03) Intense Focus:

Watch Bolt right before the start gun goes off. You can see a look of intense focus and concentration. In an area where precision means a lot, an Engineer needs to maintain extreme focus when working on critical aspects of projects. In a field like Hardware, it gets more pronounced as fixing a hardware bug could get very expensive. Shutting off the possible distractions and focussing on the job at hand is not a very easy task. You just have to give a casual glance around you to see folks who gets distracted each and every time someone walks by (for example).

As I say at the beginning, history will judge if Bolt’s amazing performances were legit or not. But one thing we cannot deny is that with or without steroids, he managed to squeeze in performances of a lifetime in those 10, 20 and 40 seconds of those 3 events, over two Olympics, when many things could have gone wrong (false starts, injury, a competitor on fire etc.). (Side Note: Regarding Lance Armstrong, though he is probably a cheat as far as steroid usage goes, he did beat cancer and that is no easy task. Atleast we can gather hope from that aspect of Armstrong’s life, rather than focusing only on the negatives).


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