Baseball lore is full of “truisms” that people like to apply to business and daily life. Sometimes, though, those truisms aren’t all that true.
Take the classic myth about Babe Ruth, for example. Everyone knows about his home run prowess – he hit 714 round-trippers in his career, putting him 3rd on the all-time list. The other story that lots of folks tell is that the Babe’s all-or-nothing style also made him a leader in strikeouts. “You can’t be great unless you’re willing to put it all on the line and go down swinging” – or so some consultants like to say when they’re making a point about business people getting out of their proverbial comfort zone.
Truth is, Ruth is 122nd on the list of strikeout leaders for a career. That’s still pretty high, but far from the top. In fact, the numbers that matter most tell a different story about Ruth. His lifetime batting average is the 10th best of all time at .342, and his OPS (on-base plus slugging average) – the holy grail of baseball stats in today’s game – is 1.164, making him numero uno of all time.
Success doesn’t require strikeouts
So what does all this stuff about baseball and Babe Ruth have to do with business? It’s pretty simple. Anyone who believes you have to “strike out” a lot in order to be a top performer is an idiot.
It’s true that you need to push the limits sometimes and explore new opportunities that could put you in another “league.” And you certainly shouldn’t punish failures that come from earnest effort and calculated risks that sometimes go awry. But being a leader in business does NOT require that you also strike out a lot.
Homers don’t equate to winners
What’s more, you don’t need to hit a lot of homers to be a winner. That’s another myth. It’s a trap that takes people’s eyes off the ball of doing all the little things right – and looking constantly at how to do all the little things better.
Sure home runs are fun, they’re exciting, and they can win a game. Nothing wrong with that. But they rarely win a season. Don’t believe me? Here’s another revealing statistic. Since 1995, no team that’s won the regular season home run title has won the World Series. In fact, only four of them have even made the playoffs!
Small and better all the time
Give me a team that’s great at both “small ball” and reducing the strikeouts, and I’ll show you a consistent, long-run winner – in baseball AND in business. It starts with a mindset that the little things really do count – combined with an obsession for improvement. From there, it takes a systematic process for engaging all employees in identifying and implementing the little improvements they have control over in their day-to-day work – those small, continuous steps forward that build up over time and produce enormous collective impact.
Remember, when it comes to winning in the long run, the improvements you make every day, however small, have greater impact on results than what you do once in a while, however big.
In baseball lingo, that means focus first on making contact and getting on base. Then work on doing that better all the time. If you happen to hit a homer, that’s fine, but don’t get used to it. If you get in the habit of swinging for the fences, you’ll wind up watching your competition playing small ball in the “world series” of business while you’re sitting in the stands eating peanuts and Cracker Jacks.
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