I dislike sports. Well this isn’t true. In truth I really like sports. Not every sport but many. For example, I have just completed my bi-annual contest of hope vs. expectation over England’s national soccer team. Whenever England play at a major tournament my hopes rise (I can’t control it) even though my expectation stays low (I can’t control that either). And sure enough this summer England played at Euro 2012…they huffed and puffed…did just enough to encourage my hopes and then…failed. I should know better.
What I really mean is that I dislike sporting analogies. They are amazingly common but they frequently struggle to translate across countries and cultures. Snooker means nothing to US and baseball means little to UK. Even sports everyone knows can have different names depending on where you are – soccer and football for example.
Moreover, sporting analogies tend to only ever resonate with people who know about, or enjoy, sports. The risk of drawing comparison to sports to exemplify a message about work…is that a significant percentage of people will switch off or won’t understand the analogy.
So I work very hard to avoid using sporting stories or expressions when I talk, tell stories or draw comparisons. But sometimes I just can’t resist…
I was in Indianapolis at the start of this week and then transferred (by
car) to Madison. It was really hot. Everywhere. And humid. But I had an amazing week – meeting new colleagues…learning, exploring and sharing.
On these longer US trips, I inevitably overcome jetlag and move into US time. Which means that it gets progressively harder each day to get up early enough to go to the fitness centre. By Thursday morning, waking up at 5:00am felt really early! But I still made it by 5:10. I turned on the TV and just started my exercise…on autopilot. The TV was reporting sports news.
And there, in amongst updates about sports I know not what (just what is the draft and why is it so important to basketball?) and people I know not who, was a story that made me think. Which – of course – is the intent of any analogy or story. To encourage us to think differently…especially to think differently about a topic or theme that is important to us.
This particular story was about a golfer who had achieved a hole-in-one. He had hit his ball some 200 yards (further than he could see) and it had gone directly into the hole. This is not a common occurrence. The golfer himself was initially stunned and looked out in disbelief when he heard the crowd cheering. And then when he realised his achievement he smiled, raised both his arms and high-fived his partner.
But why did this story wake me up that early morning? Well the golfer’s face told me everything. Yes he had delivered something special. But he had an expression as much of pride as it was surprise. I didn’t recognise the golfer in question, but when asked about his shot he spoke only about how he swung his club, how he held his head, how he concentrated on the ball. He focussed all his energy on aspects of quality he could control…and was rewarded with a great outcome (and a free golf cart from the tournament sponsors).
And so this was the analogy that I took away from my early morning workout – that in anything we do there are certain components we control and that if we focus on executing these to the highest quality possible then everything else we want, or need, or desire will ultimately follow.