Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

This blog often shares perspectives on innovation and leadership, traits we see in spades during the Olympics. As this Winter Olympics unfolds in China, though, let’s discuss the awesome problem-solving skills of the Olympians and what we can apply to our own business endeavors.

The performances of Olympic athletes can seem unbelievable. Part of the joy of watching the Games is seeing these amateur athletes accomplish seemingly super-human feats. As we all admire the commitment and dedication it takes to reach their goals, these athletes must overcome adversity, injuries, failures, COVID and, yes, sometimes depression.

Although you may not be signing up to speed down a mountain on a skeleton crew or to speed skate around a compact, crowded rink, there are many parallels to draw between Olympians and successful businesspeople. Perhaps most importantly we are all driven to problem solve. The athletes need to solve problems to do with shaving off seconds, or landing a jump, or even getting safely to the games, while we back home regularly face business problems or chemical process problems.

Successful professional problem solvers share the following characteristics as Olympians.


Olympic athletes must persevere and have a long-term view to train for four years. Sometimes even longer. Businesspeople and process engineers have persevered through the unprecedented times beginning in 2020 and continue today to solve problems. I’ve written previously about a model of perseverance, Leonhard Seppala and his lead dog, Togo. This is a characteristic we can all continue to hone (athletes or not) to achieve our goals and meet unique challenges.


Olympic athletes train many hours per day and many days a week, normally for decades. Every aspect of their lives is dedicated to the pursuit of that gold medal. There is perhaps no better example of this than the athletes who will compete in March’s Paralympics games, also in China. They’ve taken problem solving to an entirely new level by taking obstacles and turning them into opportunity.

Similarly, those who are successful as process engineers or businesspeople must invest countless hours of their time in pursuit of success. Though I’ll remind you I’ve written about the need for balance too! Taking a break from it all can help clear your mind for problem-solving success.

Speed and Flexibility

As we watch the Olympics, we always marvel at the athletes’ speed and flexibility.  During COVID, we all had to quickly pivot to find ways to thrive.  Chemical startups were done remotely using cameras and sometimes drones while restaurants that normally made their money from indoor dining put their efforts into promoting take-out and delivery. Other businesses  seized upon opportunities with “speed and flexibility” to provide products and solutions over and above their competitors. This is problem solving at pace, and this kind of agility is essential as business evolves today.


Great teams have great leaders. Numerous gold medalists have taken time to thank their coaches and mentors who have helped them along the way. Indeed, it takes a team to build an individual winner.

Similarly, successful companies are often led by managers who set examples and inspire their employees to perform beyond expectations. I’ve written previously about leadership lessons we can take from the 1969 moon launch or just getting out there in the plant and walking around. I honestly believe learning in one field can become applicable to others. That’s why I follow the Olympic athletes with such awe and admiration, but also an open mind to what I can learn from their stories, struggles, and successes.


Athletes are, by their very nature, optimistic. Without the belief that they can win, athletes do not succeed.  Similarly, successful people are inherently optimistic.  No one looks at a process problem or business issue thinking that they will fail. Sometimes, we do fail, but then we learn. Think of troubleshooting a filtration problem, we have to go into that effort with confidence we can solve the problem. Otherwise, we’d just jettison the system and start all over again (insanity!).

Problem solving with P&ID

Of course, problem solving is what I do every day. The mission of Perlmutter & Idea Development, P&ID, is to (1) assist with process and project development from reactions/mixing to filtration/cake washing/dewatering to final “bone-dry” powder and (2) help you disrupt your market and achieve competitive advantages in new markets and new applications worldwide with innovation and creativity. We may not get to mount a podium and hear an anthem play, but together we can problem solve the winning solution to your process concerns.