Is all the business world a field or court?
A quick stroll through the business section of a bookstore or a search through the management section of an on-line retailer will quickly reveal the plethora of titles available from sports figures. Working from the analogy that the activities inherent around a basketball court, a football field, or a baseball diamond simulate the activities in the workplace, many current and former athletes and coaches have penned treatises teaching us how to be successful on the job. Topics for these books include leadership, management, motivation, teamwork, self-improvement, finance, and others.
A great recent example of this is the book by John Wooden that we featured at the First Friday Book Synopsis and that you can purchase at 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com. This book is also accompanied by videos, manuals, and training courses. No one can question Wooden’s success as a repetitive NCAA champion head basketball coach at UCLA. You could say the same thing about practically any of these authors. After all, who would read a book from a loser? I learned a long time ago in attending conventions of the National Speakers Association, that if you want to be successful in the business, follow the path of a successful speaker, not a failure.
Here are some others:
Rick Pitino – head basketball coach at the University of Louisville: Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life
Fran Tarkenton – former NFL quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants: What Losing Taught Me About Winning: The Ultimate Guide for Success in Small and Home-Based Business
Mike Ditka – former NFL head coach for the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints: In Life, First You Kick Ass: Reflections on the 1985 Bears and Wisdom from Da Coach
The assumption behind all of these books is that the activities and best practices which yielded success for these authors in sports are relevant and applicable to what we do at work. Therefore, a manager can use the techniques that a head coach uses, employees are players, competitors are opponents, strategies are plays, pilots or rollouts are practices, groups should become teams, and so forth. We can use terms and phrases such as, “she struck out today,” “this looks like a home run,” “he’s our quarterback,” and “we’re in a sand trap.” You get the point.
I think that there is some legitimacy to this, although I can tell you that in teaching my MBA courses at the University of Dallas, students are tiring of the sports analogy in business, particularly for teamwork. You may remember the series of silly commercials from American Express a few years ago entitled “Great Moments in Business,” where employees piled up on each other in a room after a successful presentation, and high-fived each other as if they had just won a World Series after a closed sale.
If you believe that the principles that motivate human beings are the same, no matter what the context, then you would have no problem with what these books try to do. Who would not advocate “practice” before performance, whether that is a presentation, a draft of a document or e-mail, or a pilot program prior to a national product introduction? The same principles and behaviors that qualify a group of people as a team on the court or field should apply on the job. Consider trust, which is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for teamwork. Without trust, there is no team, no matter where it is. We don’t have to talk about money – that’s an issue in the business of sports as much as the business of business. Some have a lot, and some don’t have enough. Some even go out of existence, such as the recent announcement that the 20-year Arena Football League will cease operations. Some look for outside buoyance. The Federal Government keeps General Motors alive. Major League Baseball did the same for the Montreal Expos before moving them to Washington, D.C. Every sports franchise is as much of a business as a firm on Wall Street, or anywhere else.
And, managers and employees can go through all the motions of strategic planning, just like coaches and players study a playbook, diagram motions, and run through plays on the practice field or court, only to learn that when they face a competitor, it is considerably different. Rarely is there a situation where the presence of an opponent is the not the cause of substantial modifications in strategy, and the possibility of failure.
Remember when George Will told us that baseball players are not the “boys of summer,” but rather, “Men at Work.” He argued that baseball managers, just as business managers, examine a set of complex variables in making decisions. And, that players perfect their skills on the diamond in ways that go well beyond how employees do the same in the workplace.
In conclusion, advice from sports personalities about business is probably no worse than the lessons we can read about based upon Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ, Machiavelli, or General Robert E. Lee. Like many of these sports personalities, they didn’t run or work for any of today’s companies, but authors have used their best practices to show us how to work better in our jobs.
Is all the business world a field or a court? Perhaps no worse than a stage. No matter how we do it, we all have to perform. The question is simply what resources we want to use to guide us to success.
Let’s talk about it. What do you think?