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What businesses can learn from Sir Roger Bannister

Simon Wragg
Simon Wragg
14 August 2019 1 minute readShare
Sir Roger Bannister 4-minute mile

Sir Roger Bannister was the first person to ever run a full mile in under four minutes. His legacy has an important lesson for businesses trying to better engage with their customers, writes Simon Wragg.

On Sunday, more 70,000 people laced up their runners, tackled Heartbreak Hill and completed Sydney’s famous City2Surf. I was one of those runners, and soon after passing the finish line, I realised two things:

  1. How blessed I am to live in such a spectacular city.
  2. Professional athletes are very fast!

Congratulations to Harry Summers who won Sunday’s race and completed the 13.91km (8.7 mile) course in 40 minutes, five seconds — just a few seconds shy of the course record.

Thinking of other athletes though, allow us to consider Roger Bannister, famous for being the first person to break the 4 Minute Mile on 6 May 1954.

For decades, “milers” had been striving against the clock, but the elusive four minutes had always beaten them. The challenge was deemed at the time to be an unconquerable mountain and considered the holy grail of athletic achievement.

However, just 46 days after Bannister’s feat, John Landy — an accomplished Australian runner — also achieved the triumph and even bettered Bannister’s time (three minutes, 58 seconds).

Some 12 months later, three runners broke the four-minute barrier in a single race. Over the last 50 years, more than a thousand runners have conquered a barrier that had once been considered impossible and hopelessly out of reach. The once illustrious 4 Minute Mile is now considered “standard” for professional middle-distance runners (the current record standing at 3.43).

So, why the sudden influx? After Bannister’s performance in 1954, was there a sudden growth spurt in human evolution?

No. What changed was the mental model, and as a consequence, Bannister remains an inspiration... and not just to aspiring runners.

Much has been written about how Bannister’s achievement can traverse from athletics to the business world. The Power of Impossible Thinking, by Yoram Wind and Colin Crook, devotes an entire chapter to an assessment of Bannister’s accomplishment and emphasises the mindset behind it, rather than the physical achievement.

The authors explain how runners of the past had been held back by a mindset that said they could not surpass the 4 Minute Mile. For those who achieved this landmark after Bannister, they needed to see something before they truly believed it.

In many respects, customers and consumers are no different. They often need to see something, smell something, taste something, hear something or touch something before they believe in it and commit to purchase.

In a crowded market, today’s shoppers have so many paths to purchase, yet many still want to “kick the tyres” before buying.

Simon Wragg is account director at 5iveSenses.

What businesses can learn from Sir Roger Bannister
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Simon Wragg
Simon Wragg

Adam Zuchetti is the former editor of MyBusiness and a senior freelance media professional, specialising in the fields of business, personal finance and property. In 2020, he also embarked on his own business journey – inspired in part by the entrepreneurs and founders he had met through his journalistic work – with the launch of customised pet gifting and subscription service Paws N’ All.

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