I don’t know about you but Matt and I have been absolutely glued to the Olympics over the last few weeks. I think the last time that I watched this much sport was back in 1996 when Damon Hill won the Formula 1 World Championship—and that wasn’t compressed into two short weeks when I was also working!
Of course there will always be cynics (we’re British, aren’t we?!) but, for me, London 2012 has been incredible—and we’ve still got the Paralympic Games to go! Sadly Matt and I didn’t manage to get tickets but we’ve loved dipping in and out of the events, watching athletes perform amazing feats of human achievement, and generally soaking up the atmosphere.
And, it would seem that we haven’t been alone. Almost everyone I know on Facebook and Twitter has been posting pictures of how they’ve been supporting the Games and, in an almost unprecedented voice of unity, the media have been unendingly positive.
On Monday, the front page of The Times read:
Our revels now are ended, but the past 17 days have been such stuff as dreams are made of. The London Olympics Games ended last night and the greatest party in the history of the world is now a memory. Or a raft of them.
Looks like we got away with it, then. Looks like London 2012 was—well, we don’t really go in for boasting in this country, but it was, shall we say, not bad. Really quite good, in fact. Quite good for us: rest of the world, was it good for you too? It was, you know. I think a nation can tell.
So why I am writing about this on a blog dedicated to business musings? Well, it seems like a pretty appropriate time to give a shout out to all things British, including business.
For example, did you know before you watched the Closing Ceremony that the theme tune to CSI: Miami is by The Who (as are all CSI theme tunes) and that The Who are British? This was news to me—at least about the theme tunes for a hit American television series being British in origin.
What about Sir Tim Berners-Lee, British inventor of the World Wide Web? In an Ipsos MORI survey conducted earlier this year, only 13% of adults believed the World Wide Web was made or designed in Britain. Fortunately, the people in the know knew better and Sir Tim was given a star role in the Opening Ceremony.
The stunning and beautiful Olympic Cauldron was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, founder of Heatherwick Studio—one of the most inventive design studios in Britain. Matt and I spent a fabulous afternoon at the Victoria and Albert Museum browsing the first major solo exhibition of their work (this exhibition is running until 30 September as part of the London 2012 Festival).
In addition to the Olympic Cauldron, Heatherwick Studio have also designed the bestselling zip bag, developed in collaboration with Longchamp; a brand new London bus—”the first bus to be designed specifically for the capital in more than fifty years”; the Rolling Bridge at Paddington Basin; and a huge programme of improvements to a Pacific Place shopping mall in Hong Kong; to name but a few.
We’ve got a lot to shout about in Britain and a lot to be proud of. And yet—at least before the Olympics—only 4% of people felt that business was a reason to be proud to be British. Hopefully this is an attitude that will change following the success of the Olympics but I also wonder whether, to some degree, it’s a matter of education. I don’t think we always realise how rich our heritage is and how much us Brits are truly responsible for. Maybe that’s because we’re too self-effacing. Maybe British businesses aren’t very good at getting the word out. Maybe, in a funny way, it’s just part of the nature of being British: we don’t boast, we don’t shout, and we like to quietly go about our business—even when that business is changing the world.
The Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics were great at showcasing British achievements. A film by UK Trade & Investment was also produced several years ago to promote the creative cultural heritage of modern Britain in our bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. Part of UKTI’s ‘Love and Money’ campaign, the film showcases “products and services that balance business ambition and commercial success with the invention and experimentation for which Britain’s creative industries are internationally renowned.”
Having travelled the world, the Love and Money exhibition has received an international reaction that has been “unanimously positive”. And maybe that is something else that we should take away from these Games: international opinion on Britain is generally more positive than we give ourselves credit for. Good news if you’re looking to internationalise!
I’m sure there will be people out there who disagree with me—you may even be reading this article! But, for me, I stand with Declan Carty whose letter to The Independent having travelled to the Olympics from Dublin was featured in The Week:
I have come to the sad conclusion that there seem to be more people with glasses half-empty than half-full, and it is these people who bleat on endlessly about how poor everything is and how it could be better. We must despatch these naysayers and not pay them any more attention than we have to. Our experience, and the experience of dozens of people we spoke to, was a very positive one. Congratulations to all concerned.
Today, I am proud to be British and proud of everything we have achieved. If you’re a British business, be proud of your achievements and consider shouting them from the rooftops, even if at first this is only in a whisper.