What Lance Armstrong Can Teach Us About Business

Despite the truth finally coming out about Lance Armstrong, it’s amazing how many people you can still find who support him. In fact as I write this, a poll on the tritalk forum has 31% of posters declaring they are still fans of Lance. Astounding when you consider he’s been shown to be a serial cheat, liar and drug pusher who bullied team-mates into doping, drove clean riders out of the sport and labelled a former female employee a prostitute after she dared to stand up to him..

How can this support for him continue? I have met and count as friends many of the people on that forum and they’re all apparently rational, intelligent people with strong moral values. I know for a fact that if someone was caught cheating in a race they were competing in (e.g. they pushed a fellow competitor into a ditch) they would absolutely livid.

This is quite an extreme (and emotionally laden) example but I think what we’re seeing here is something that is very fundamental to the human condition: Once we have a belief about something or someone we are very very reluctant to change our minds even when presented with clear facts to the contrary. On some basic level it’s very painful for us to do so.

Lessons For Business

I think underestimating how hard it is to change someone’s mind is one of the biggest mistakes people make as they enter business. If your new service or product involves converting people’s thinking from something they currently believe in to your own idea, it’s going to be very heavy going indeed. But if you’ve identified a group of people just waiting for a product that supports their beliefs then you’re going to have some very passionate new customers queueing up to buy from you!

At Swim Smooth, we believe in an individual approach to stroke correction, considering each person as an individual with no single ideal stroke technique in mind. That’s an approach that’s born out of a vast coaching experience and is consistent with all the facts but we appreciated early on that even though the facts were on our side, that wasn’t going to be enough to convert people away from the tradition that everyone should aspire to swim with a single ideal stroke style and should be working on the same things.

Instead, we designed outstanding products (many of them free) that helped any swimmer improve their swimming. At the same time we educated those that were open minded and looking for answers about a better coaching philosophy, and pointed out where others were going wrong. We didn’t waste our limited time, money and emotional energy arguing on internet forums with people who disagreed with us, although I must admit it was tempting.

Conversion Takes Years And Years

So is it impossible to convert people from one belief to another? No, not impossible, but unless people are on the absolute cusp of making that change anyway you don’t have the time or money to do it – you’ll go bust before you ever manage it.

The only force strong enough to convert one person after another is the persuasive power of the other people in the market place itself. This will take a lot of time, probably at least a decade, which is much too slow to depend on to grow your business but you can be the beneficial recipient of these movements over time.

As an example, here’s a market place of age group triathletes who believe they need a high percentage of carbohydrate in their diets to fuel themselves through their training:

Let’s say that you believe in the Paleo diet as a better alternative, offering superior nutrition, appetite regulation and faster recovery. Ignoring the carb loving masses, you focus your products and communication on those who are open and interested in your ideas:

Gradually this group of athletes grows as they tell their friends who trust and respect them about the benefits of the diet. Over time they convert more and more people to the cause and if the benefits are obvious and strong enough, they will eventually convert a large portion or all of the market:

Notice that I said if the benefits are strong enough to convert the market… you don’t get to decide that (and I have no idea whether the Paleo diet will succeed in this or remain a minority existence). You can offer up leadership to help inspire the movement but ultimately you don’t get to decide, no matter how strong your conviction. You are at the mercy of the market.

So pick your products and design your marketing carefully, and never expect to change anyone’s mind.



  1. Hi

    My question is irrelevant to the point of this article, but I’m curious about the example you used to illustrate the point. What’s your personal(or swimsmooth’s) take on training nutrition? High carb or high fat?

  2. Hi Sander, I’m personally a fan of keeping things balanced between the two (carbs and fat). I think Paleo’s great if you can do it but personally find the meal preparation to restricting (maybe when I’ve got my own chef!).

    Cheers! Adam