Like many folks, I grew up playing a range of sports. I think my parents just wanted me out of the house and their tactics clearly worked. My three favorites growing up--and, still to this day--are football, boxing and running. While I still dabble in each in some way, shape or form today, the biggest impact playing these sports have had on my life is played out in my everyday business life. Sports carries many life lessons, but three in particular have been instrumental in how I run my business.
No Plan Survives First Attack
When I played football, I played the position of left guard--essentially one of the guys that blocks for the guy with the ball so he gets all of the glory. Our coach would always draw up a play on the chalkboard and say, "You see, there are 11 of you the on field. If all of you follow what you are supposed to do and block the one guy in front of you, then we will score a touchdown every time."
At age 16, it made sense. If I block one guy and the next guy does the same, in theory, we should be unstoppable in getting the football in for a touchdown. That season, we won only one game all season and were the worst ranked team in the division. What our coach failed to say is that it is almost impossible for every single person to make every single block. First, the defense adjusts based on what it thinks you are going to do, therefore making your plan impossible to execute the way you had initially planned. Second, some folks are simply more talented than others--you can't assume you have the strongest guys at every position.
Great football wins by audibles--changing the play based on what you think the other team is doing-- and so should your business. While drawing up a business plan makes perfect sense, you should spend significant time thinking of how you are going to adjust what will be an inevitably changing plan.
It's All About the Angles
I took up boxing a bit later in life. Aside from the fear of someone taking your head off which I personally think is a good fear to handle, I had a great trainer who always explained to me that boxing is all about angles. And, creating angles isn't possible when you’re standing flat footed. The difference between you or your opponent leaning forward versus backward is often the difference between standing and sitting.
This has proven applicable to my business life many times over. For my company, we maintain a core principal of "living in beta" which we interpret as evolving and changing in some form of constant motion. While our core purpose as a digital marketing and technology agency has remained the same, the tactical way we operate has truly changed year over year since our inception. Our company has lived through economic ups and downs, intense competitive pressures and unpredictable personal tragedies which have all had a deep impact on our company. But I'm proud to say none has hit us hard enough to put us down for the count. In fact, those tough blows have made us stronger.
It's Not Where You Start, It's Where You Finish
When I participated in long distance running, I always remembered the feeling of the first quarter mile of every race. There was always a core group of folks that sprinted out ahead and I had this split feeling of needing to keep up but also recognizing that I couldn't possibly maintain at the pace everyone was running at. Turns out, in every race, most of those early sprinters never make it to the finish line.
As a business owner, I've always felt that it's hard to put our company's performance in the appropriate context. Sure, we can look at our P&L to view financial performance or look at our business goals from years past, but getting a wider context of how we compare to the rest of our business circles has always been a bit more challenging. Are we growing fast enough? Are we diversified enough? Are we keeping our clients happy enough? Are we innovating enough?
There are endless questions that weigh on my shoulders with no definitive answer except one that I believe in my heart to be true--that business, like long distance running, isn't won by sprints. It's won by persistence, lot's of sweat, a few cramps and many water breaks along the way.