Over the weekend, the Buffalo Bills played the Indianapolis Colts in a memorable football game in Orchard Park, New York, a Buffalo suburb. The teams played in near white-out conditions, in the middle of a heavy snowstorm.

While the game was fun to watch, it was clear that the storm provided some challenges for players on both teams. There are a few important lessons you can apply from how the players handled those unique and sub-optimal conditions when faced with uncommon or unexpected adversity in your own business.

1. Be willing to throw your standard playbook out the window.

While many NFL games reflect a nice mix of both running and passing plays on offense, the snowy conditions and heavy winds caused the teams to adopt a different strategy to put points on the board. Both teams relied heavily on running plays.

In business, you'll likely have your go-to set of strategies that you lean on. But there will be times where market conditions around you warrant abandoning them, in search of new or infrequently used approaches.

Thus you've got to build a culture that is agile enough, that it can adjust to execute whatever strategy is needed.

When I worked my corporate job, two key employees left the company and one went out on medical leave weeks before a major launch. Because we were so massively understaffed so suddenly, I had to take on several additional responsibilities (including spending a significant amount of time in the UK), become more familiar with a new market, and delegate a number of other projects to my team.

It wasn't always pretty, and we had to ruthlessly prioritize to make it work, but the launch went off without a hitch and we accomplished our goals. 

2. Never lose your competitiveness or sense of urgency. 

As a result of their win over the Colts, the Buffalo Bills improved their standing in their quest to make the playoffs. They persevered not only during the challenging four quarters of the game but in the overtime period as well.

When you have to do your work in sub-optimal conditions, it can be tempting to give a less than stellar effort, or to just phone it in so you can get on to the next thing.

But you can't do that.

You've got to maintain your vigilance and sense of urgency no matter what. That's the foundation of the startup culture Jeff Bezos has cultivated at Amazon. Every year Bezos reminds his team of this guiding principle by including in the annual report his original letter to shareholders from 1997, where he outlined this Day 1 philosophy. 

And in his 2016 letter to shareholders, he noted why maintaining that Day 1 sense of urgency is so critical:

Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.

3. Prepare to succeed no matter the conditions.

For most NFL players, running around in the snow isn't the norm. But the Colts and Bills players had to work to find a way to be effective, in spite of it. They had to focus on having a winning mindset that enabled them to execute.

NFL player Mohamed Sanu Sr. chatted with SB Nation and reinforced the sentiment that the conditions you have to play in shouldn't be considered a barrier

Any weather is football weather. Heat, cold, rain, snow -- doesn't matter. Just gotta prepare your mind for whatever is ahead of you."

A smart way to cultivate a mindset primed to win under any circumstances is to train yourself to perform in less than desirable conditions.

Bob Bowman, long-time swim coach to Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, trained him in this manner. He'd do things like stepping on his goggles before meets or have his driver pick him up late so he'd miss a pre-meet meal. All of this preparation positioned Phelps to perform at an elite level, no matter the circumstance.

Building a business is often messy. While planning is a smart approach to accomplish your goals, a lot can happen that can make your best plans irrelevant.  So make sure you equip your team with the mindset and experiences needed to succeed no matter what.

Published on: Dec 14, 2017
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