Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Difficulty vs. Execution

The Olympics are currently taking place in Beijing, which means it's time for us all to refresh our memories about gymnastics and other sports that we probably only watch once every four years. In gymnastics, an athlete's score for a routine is based on two criteria: difficulty and execution. Neither the highest difficulty nor the best execution is sufficient to win; the successful competitor must balance both.

Last Friday I had breakfast with Paul Hudnut, an entrepreneur and teacher who blogs about social entrepreneurship at his What's a BOPreneur blog. Olympics were not a discussion point during our conversation, but they helped to frame a comment he made to me. I mentioned my interest in Africa, and he inquisitively asked, "Why Africa?" I responded that Africa is where the greatest need is, as well as the greatest challenge. He said that by setting a goal to help 1 million people out of $1-a-day poverty, I have already set a challenging goal and I must determine the degree of difficulty I am willing to take on. Paul suggested that I consider whether I need to take the most challenging path possible and whether my two years' experience in Thailand might make me better prepared to help in Asia. Both are valid points to consider.

Last night American Shawn Johnson's balance beam routine had a difficulty of 7.00 and she executed a 9.225, earning a gold medal in the process. The only other competitor who attempted a 7.00, China's Shanshan Li fell off the beam and placed sixth out of eight. Johnson's teammate Nastia Liukin performed the fifth most difficult routine, with a rating of 6.60. However, she had the strongest execution of anyone, at 9.425. As a result of her moderately difficult program and impressive execution, Liukin earned a silver medal.

For my first balancing act in poverty alleviation, I would likely fall off the beam if I attempted a 7.00. That's not to say Africa is out of the question. On the contrary, I recently booked my Zambia ticket for the middle of October and am very excited to go. But you can be certain that if I choose to target Africa, I will not rush headstrong into a country in the midst of civil war. No, there's nothing shabby about a silver medal at the Olympics. And my goal is of Olympic proportions...

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