What American Ninja Warrior Can Teach Us About Business and Life, Part 1

Photo Credit: (Tyler Golden/NBC Studios)

The lights are shining bright over the starting line. The crowd is chanting the name of the next runner and encouraging them to give it their all out on the course. Pulses are running high and the adrenaline is taking over. Everyone wants the runner to do their best, yet every other competitor wants to do better than the next.

In case you haven’t seen it, American Ninja Warrior is a nationally televised obstacle course challenge that currently runs on NBC over the summer. The show originated in Japan as a competition called Sasuke where people from all over the world could come and run a timed course with 4 different levels with the last level being a “mountain” that the competitors have to climb and hit a buzzer at the top to claim ultimate glory and be deemed worthy of being called a Ninja Warrior.

Business is full of daily challenges whether we recognize them or not. In the modern era, there are many complicated aspects of any industry and they can range from politics to team chemistry to clashing ideals or even dishonest activity. Here are a few lessons that I believe any business person can learn from American Ninja Warrior and apply them to their personal success in today’s business world, and even life in general.

The First Set of Obstacles Are the Toughest to Conquer
Each qualifying course has room for about 100 runners. The level of competition rises to the next level when the top 30 contestants go on to the City Finals, but not all 30 have necessarily finished the qualifying course. In 2016, less than 19% of the runners finished the first course. It is extremely difficult to finish each of the next rounds but those that make it the furthest gain glory and sometimes even money. The first steps matter the most and that often gets lost on those of us in the workplace. Preparation and persistence often lead to increased success and productivity, no matter if you work for a large Fortune 100 company or a unique start-up. 
Age Means Nothing
If anything, age is something to be valued and celebrated. In 2017 there were more competitors than ever that were beyond age 50 on the show. Jon Stewart is a 54 year-old perennial contestant who has moved on to the City Finals three years in a row and he shows no signs of slowing down. This season we have also seen 65 year-old John Loobey make it farther than many of his younger counterparts by finishing two obstacles but falling to the water on the third. Still, that run was quite impressive. We hear more and more about age discrimination in the business world and many corporations are turning a blind eye to incidents that could be making headlines. Experience and wisdom should be the cornerstones of the corporate landscape and those that recognize this will be better equipped to deal with the roadblocks of an uncertain future. Without the leadership of those who came before us, we could be making the same old mistakes and be ill-prepared to handle the turbulent markets that exist throughout the world. The best resource that we have is the experience given to us by those who went before us.

Photo Credit: (NBC Studios)

Women Can Outperform Men In Many Situations
Some of the more notable names of the sport are the women who compete on the show year after year. A few of the women powerhouses that are featured each year are Jessie Graff, Meagan Martin, Kacy Catanzaro and Michelle Warnky. These women have earned superstar status in this sport and they prove themselves to be the best of the best. Many of their male counterparts fail to reach the bar set by these ladies and they have it in them to stand out among the men that compete in the challenges set forth. Kacy Catanzaro is known as the first woman to reach the top of the warped wall on the city qualifiers — one of the most difficult challenges to face on the show — and Jessie Graff became the first woman to complete a city qualifying course that guarantees a place in the National Finals leg of the competition. They are already inspiring the next generation of girls to be their best and to seek new challenges beyond the norm. Women are revitalizing their dreams and they are soaring to new heights. Some are leaders of their field and have already gained amazing amounts of respect. Today’s business world is already being shaped by strong women like Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, Melinda Gates and Marissa Mayer to name a few. As the new generation of the workforce evolves and brings their experience to the corporate world, their ideals of empowerment for women and equality of all kinds will follow as well.

Each day in the business world is full of challenges that test our abilities to adapt, learn and grow but with these lessons and examples above it can be easier to carve your own path to success. There are more lesson that I can share from the television series and I hope that you enjoyed this read enough to come back for more. Cheers!

by Ben Truby
Project Manager for XPO Logistics 
Email: ben.truby@xpo.com