Lessons From the Court: One Step at a Time
By: Jen O’Meara, Ph.D.
The first thing I do when a tournament draw gets published is look at the teams in my division and assess which one will be the toughest opponent. Having decided which team is ‘the team to beat,’ I then want to gear up specifically for the match against that team because, I figure, if we beat that team, we win the tournament.
Although that line of thinking might make sense on paper, adopting such a mindset is actually counterproductive. I have to become my own coach and force myself to actively combat those thoughts. More often than not, I can’t focus on the toughest team straight away because I first need to focus on winning our first round match. We have all learned the hard way that taking an early round opponent for granted is one of the quickest ways to get knocked out of a competition. The only way to win a tournament is to win one match at a time.
This philosophy works as well in business as it does in competitive sport. I see it as a helpful way to think about projects.
Let’s say, for example, that you have been given the assignment to develop and present a new, cost-effective solution to a client. In this case, it seems like it would make sense to consider the solution itself as the most important part of your task, and thus make devising that solution your priority.
Your coaching and leadership mindset needs to kick in and remind you, however, that your overall task is much larger than just devising the solution. You will need to break the assignment into smaller, more manageable tasks — studying the problem, examining why previous solutions have failed, devising your solution, explaining why your solution will work, detailing the costs associated with your solution, creating presentation materials, and delivering the presentation. You should consider each of those smaller tasks as tournament rounds.
In order to ‘win’ your tournament — ie. present your solution to the client — you’ll need to focus your full attention on each of those individual tasks, in turn. You need, for example, to understand why previous solutions have failed so your solution will avoid those pitfalls. You need to perform a detailed and accurate cost analysis. Your presentation materials must be clear and your presentation needs to be confidently delivered. You need a win, so to speak, in each one of these smaller task ‘rounds’ in order for the client to ultimately recognize your solution as a winner.
I encourage you to remember this metaphor next time you think about a project. Devoting your full attention to every step is akin to proceeding through a tournament one round at a time. Overlooking early rounds and taking steps for granted is a good way to find yourself on the sidelines watching the winners, either from outside of the court or outside of the boardroom.
Jen O’Meara is an Associate Professor of Business Communications and a 3-time US Open national racquetball champion.