Corporate Athlete – Revisited

Pinsent Masons

A couple of months ago, I mentioned the activities of the West Midlands branch of the Chartered Governance Institute, about to enter its third year.

In the last member event of pandemic-struck 2020, the branch is holding a virtual session informed by the concept of the corporate athlete.

The topic was chosen because, in a year of uncertainty, it's often been a requirement that we find new and different ways of doing things. And that is best done by learning from others.

The idea of the corporate athlete came to prominence in a 2001 Harvard Business Review article by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.  Their idea was that the approaches and conditioning of professional athletes – how they got themselves into what the authors called the "ideal performance state" or, colloquially, the Zone – could be applied to enhance skills of the elites of the corporate world; those in the C-suite.

Broadened, one can ask: how do you discover ideas from other areas and professions which, perhaps with some translation, can be used in your own?  

For the branch: what can be helpfully imported to the world of corporate governance?

There are some really good examples of this kind of thinking in the work of the Financial Reporting Council's Lab. Although focus is on transferable tools, it has published explorative papers on all sorts of interesting areas from the (potential) role for the ubiquitous blockchain / distributed ledger system through to adopting AI, all in a governance context.

I have had a go at working in this way, lifting the idea of the "hackathon" from the software production world.

Although it's a relatively well known term now, the hackathon was originally a way to "break" a particular problem by bringing different types of software specialists together to focus on a variety of solutions. It has subsequently developed a more generic meaning: describing a situation where people with different areas of expertise come together to work on a problem from different angles.

I have used the concept in my setting to bring together people from all parts of our firm – finance, legal, management, support, software design – to look creatively at a particular problem.

Indeed, the legal world has taken to this generally. During April and May, as Covid settled, the Financial Times curated its Global Legal Hackathon. 2,700 participants signed up from nearly 70 countries to collaborate virtually on 184 projects – exactly the spirit of new ideas that corporate athleticism has developed around.

The corporate athlete, then, isn't just another corporate buzzword, but a pithy way of encapsulating a progressive concept. If we extend our view beyond our small part of the world, with the intention to consider a given issue from different points of view and using a mix of skills, problems are seen holistically.  Better solutions can be found, faster.

If you'd like to join the discussion, you can find speaker details and sign up for the event on Thursday 10 December via the branch page (see "Events").