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Changing the Way You're Judged: an Olympic Lesson

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C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

Many people reading this will not likely relate. Some of the contents are arguably a bit obscure. It doesn't help that it took place 16 years ago. Nor does it help that it's primarily about competitive ice dancing. There is a lesson of innovation inherent in the story though that pertains quite well to some current happenings. But that doesn't make it any less obscure or any less about ice dancing.

There was a time when I actually enjoyed watching ice dancing during the Olympics. I'm not embarrassed (at least not overly embarrassed) to admit such a thing. But as far as I'm concerned, ice dancing stopped being a 'sport' back in 1994. That's the year Torvill and Dean (of Great Britain) were robbed of an Olympic gold medal.

I was however watching the Olympic ice dancing finals last night. My wife still enjoys it. She wouldn't let me change the channel to watch some Olympic curling matches. Go figure. As I watched a few of the final couples, including eventual gold medal winners Virtue and Moir of Canada and silver medalists Davis and White of the United States, I began to notice a few things that I thought weren't quite right. Various couples in the competition seemed to be performing lifts for which I thought they would be penalized. And at other times, there seemed to be more separation between ice dancers than I thought was acceptable under the rules. Then it occurred to me that my understanding of the rules is still based on 1994 standards. I admittedly haven't paid as much attention in recent years to the world of ice dancing and apparently no longer know my stuff. Judging and point systems have changed in recent years, partially because of judging scandals, but also in no small part to the skill and innovative style of skaters such as Torvill and Dean. Back in 1994 some judges couldn't even comprehend the innovative stylings set forth by this duo.

Without delving into the historical minutia of competitive ice dancing, let me simply say Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean set the standard by which all ice dancing was and will be measured. They are akin to former NBA great Michael Jordan. In the early '80s as amateurs, Torvill and Dean won multiple European and World ice dancing championships. And in 1984 they took home the gold medal from the Sarajevo Winter Olympic Games. It was at this competition that the pair became the highest scoring figure skaters of all time (for a single program) receiving twelve perfect 6.0s and six 5.9's which included artistic impression scores of 6.0 from every judge. After the '84 games, they began touring professionally.

Adjustments to competitive rules for the Olympics in the early '90s pertaining to amateur status allowed the duo to compete again for an Olympic title in 1994. They performed exquisitely yet only took home the bronze medal from Lillehammer. I suspect some of the ice dancing judges at the time probably didn't like the fact that Torvill and Dean came out of professional retirement to compete once more as amateurs. They may have received lower scores because of it. I'm of the opinion that they simply skated such an innovative program (without flaw mind you), that the judges simply couldn't comprehend what they were looking at.

For anyone that thinks Nancy Kerrigan got robbed in the same '94 Olympics when she finished second to Russia's Oksana Baiul in the ladies' singles competition, don't bother talking with me about it. Although Kerrigan may also have had an argument for winning the gold, her situation in my estimation pales in comparison to the travesty bestowed on Torvill and Dean. Torvill and Dean got truly robbed.

If you've come to the conclusion by this point that I know way too much about figure skating to be taken seriously as a writer of anything related to innovation' then by all means stop reading now. I won't begrudge you in the least. I completely understand. I do have a point to make though.

Competitive ice dancing rules have changed in no small part because of the innovative stylings of Torvill and Dean. The standards by which they were judged in '94 had yet to catch up to their abilities.

Sometimes it takes an extraordinary performance to change the way something is judged.

I've been seeing a variety of television ads during the last week concerning Toyota's commitment to customer safety and product quality, many ironically that have been playing during Olympic coverage. Unless you've been holed up somewhere for the last six to eight weeks, you must have at least some appreciation for the world of hurt Toyota is in because of its cars' safety issues and the manner in which the company has handled its recalls. The ads I've been seeing are meant, I imagine, to reassure customers and recapture lost trust. Recently revealed internal Toyota memos indicating the company had achieved 'favorable safety outcomes' and 'secured safety rulemaking favorable to Toyota' which led to company savings involving upwards of $100 million, has not I'm sure instilled warm fuzzy feelings in its customers or Washington lawmakers. Doesn't really seem as though Toyota has been looking out for its customers as recent television ads purport.

Toyota needs an extraordinary performance to change the way it is judged. And right now they're doing everything everybody expects a large, multi-billion dollar corporation would do in this situation. There's nothing really extraordinary about their efforts. They're saying they're sorry. They're committing to change. And they're running some polished PR campaigns. Wow, I'm blown away by their renewed resolve and customer commitment. Can you feel my excitement?

Why not provide some sort of compensation to affected customers? Simply fixing problems doesn't eliminate the inconvenience Toyota's product problems and manipulations have caused customers. Why not take the $100 million in savings you once garnered because of political maneuvering and apply it to some sort of customer bonus program rather than an expensive advertising and public relations campaign. Get creative. Get innovative. Do something at least mildly unexpected.

This lesson doesn't simply apply to Toyota. It's for any organization, whether in good times or bad. If you want to be judged differently, if you want to change the way people view your organization or the products and services you offer, then do something extraordinary.

Being extraordinary in the moment didn't actually help Torvill and Dean win a gold medal in '94. It certainly changed our impression of them though. And it changed the way they'll be remembered.

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