Last week I talked about the importance of changing with success and not getting too comfortable with what’s been working as it can lull an individual or organization into a complacent state. This inertia often leads to playing not to lose by shying away from taking risks, avoiding making long-term investments, and regressing into a more closed-minded attitude that can stifle innovation. All of these can combine to make one susceptible to being overtaken by more nimble, creative, and aggressive competitors. I applied this to my personal experience with tennis and how I took a lesson and left it with a new forehand grip and technique that had me very excited to put this new approach into action during my singles match the next day. As I wrote last week, the match was quite disappointing as I was completely ill-prepared to put what I learned into action. It was definitely a humbling experience. It was also one that I sorely needed.
I am a student of mastery and I have read a number of books on the subject as well as articles, biographies, and autobiographies of extraordinarily successful people in their respective fields. One of the most important actions someone can take when pursuing excellence is to be brutally honest with oneself by identifying one’s errors and doing whatever it takes to correct them. This could be working on them through practice as well as deep contemplation and visualization of what went wrong and why.
I kept reflecting on why I played so poorly and the reasons why I was so ineffective in putting what I had learned into action. It eventually hit me that during my lesson I was being fed the ball multiple times in the same three spots so that I could keep working on my new technique at various positions on the court. On the one hand, this was great because I was able to see how well my new grip and technique could work at times and, when the ball went long or into the net, what the causes were of my mistakes. Ahh, if only the real world were that easy. If all of my opponents positioned the ball just where I needed it to maximize the probability of my success then I would be a superstar. Of course, this is a fantasyland and if I have any hope of improving then I must keep playing more skilled people who will do just the opposite. They will place the ball where I have the lowest probability of success. This is just the type of person I played the next day as he was highly skilled, intelligent, and extremely crafty. He never returned the ball to me in the same location at the same pace unless I had a glaring weakness that he was trying to exploit. Unlike in my lesson, he had me on the run in ways that I never trained for using my new forehand. As a result, I was quite ill-prepared and took a shellacking.
Once I came to this realization I was much more eager and excited to take my next lesson. I told the instructor what happened and how I was so ill-prepared physically, mentally, and emotionally to apply what he taught me when it came to playing in a match with a very skilled competitor. He said, “Ok, so we’ll focus on hitting today.” I was fired up now.
We can only learn so much from reading, training, and following how others do things. I always ask myself or others, “So now what are you going to do?” The rubber meets the road in the realm of action. You are now entering the real world in which you can’t control all of the variables and you’re going to have to adjust, adapt, learn on the fly, etc. You have imperfect information and you have to assess the reaction function of others. It’s no longer theoretical or academic. My goal was to look honestly at myself and what wasn’t working so I could go into the next training session with the intention of replicating competitive conditions as best as possible so when I played the next day I not only had better knowledge of what I would do but various arrows in my quiver to be able to respond to my opponent and take the initiative much more often. Equally important, I wanted to have a mindset shift so that I would walk on the court with confidence and a fierceness that I was ready to effectively apply what I learned.
The Match: What Happened?
So what happened? After starting off 3-3, I won the first set 6-3 fairly easily. The next set was tied 4-4 and he prevailed 6-4. We started the third set and I knew we had a time constraint because we had the court for 90 minutes. I used this to my advantage as I told myself that I was going to come out extremely aggressively and play free and not worry about making mistakes. I also decided to be very aggressive with my approach shots to put him on the defensive so I could come to the net and keep him on his heels. This worked like a charm. I started off 4-0 and I ended up 4-1 when we ran out of time. I kept gaining energy despite all of the running I had been doing and I had the mindset that I was going to play to win versus playing not to lose.Play to win versus playing not to lose.Click To Tweet
I could not have had this level of confidence and applied this approach had I not adjusted my training session to make it more real-world in its orientation. I left the session eager to play the next day. As an aside, it also helped that my fortune cookie from my Chinese food dinner the night before was the following.
I texted my opponent with the photo attached and he said “I’m not intimidated…yet.” I think by the time we were done he may have been just a little bit intimidated. I’m just happy that I saw the futility of my previous approach and made the necessary corrections to improve my probability of success. I’m looking forward to seeing how our next match goes next week.
It’s been my experience at CWS that taking a hard look at what hasn’t worked in an open, non-judgmental manner has been extremely important for us over the years to help us make better investment and personnel decisions. Each year at our planning meeting the attendees are asked to make a list of what worked and didn’t work over the past year. This helps us identify organizational and/or intellectual weaknesses that have led to suboptimal outcomes. We also periodically ask ourselves what are the key decisions that we made three to five years ago that have either borne a lot of fruit or did not work out well or as we had anticipated and led to sub-optimal allocation of capital and resources. This allows us to home in on those few decisions that turned out to be game-breakers for us. Fortunately, most of them have been positive in terms of generating compelling investment returns and catalyzing our growth versus doing the opposite. It’s also a great exercise to do personally when looking back on the last three to five years and evaluating what has worked and hasn’t and what decisions were responsible for those outcomes.
This approach will be particularly important to help lay the groundwork for our planning this year as we have so many more uncertainties related to the impact of COVID on our economy, society, and people’s choices related to where they want to live and in what types of housing. A ruthlessly honest approach to uncovering and analyzing the mistakes we made in the past can help us clear the earth to make room for new, fertile soil to lead to the next phase of our growth and/or avoiding planting the wrong seeds (poor investment decisions) that don’t bear fruit and deliver disappointing results.Sometimes reality can bite but self-delusion can killClick To Tweet
Yes, sometimes reality can bite but self-delusion can kill so I would rather have a little pain from looking honestly within to see where I’m falling short and take constructive, productive action to overcome those weaknesses and have the tremendous satisfaction of experiencing the growth and success that comes from that versus stagnating and contracting by not working on those parts of my life that are holding me back from fully utilizing my gifts.
So now what are you going to do?