I've played sports my entire life starting with recess on the playground to organized sports K-12 to intercollegiate volleyball. During my college years and thereafter, I had an 18 year career in the fitness industry. Oh, and let's not forget the "way too old to still be playing leagues". Every game I've played, every practice I've endured (with all sorts of coaches), every teammate I've had, and every student I've inspired to practice a fit life has prepared me for the business world.
These sports and fitness governing truths I've learned have been applied to running my own business (on my 2nd business) to working for small and large corporate businesses. I'm going to share these truths with you in an ongoing series of blog posts, because there are so many truths and principles sports can teach or prepare you for the business world.
"Know the Rules of the Game"
This post is about both the formal and unspoken rules that govern sports and their application to the world of business from Do-Overs to Challenges to the influence of Officiating to how the rules are Subject to Change to Unspoken Rules.
DO-OVERS – are allowed in some sports or tournaments. Tennis allows you to serve over again if you hit the net, and is called a 'let'. How about 4-Square when we were kids…remember calling a do-over on the first play if you weren't ready…or maybe just pretended you weren't ready! And of course, in casual golf, DO-OVERS are referred to as a mulligan. There are a few other sport DO-OVERS that occur as a replay after a bad call by an official. This happens in tennis occasionally. Or another type of DO-OVER in football happens when a penalty flag is thrown, and the other team may choose to replay the down, if it makes sense strategically.
It behooves you to know if DO-OVERS are acceptable in the business world you're in. Some things can be overlooked a limited number of times, but eventually your mistakes or lack of attention to detail will come back to haunt you. There are some businesses that are heavily regulated by the government, such as finance and automotive (I've had the pleasure of both) which do not allow DO OVERS if you get caught. Fines will ensue and potentially cause your business irreparable harm. Ask Enron!
CHALLENGES – Some sports you can challenge the official's call with video replays, such as tennis (except Wimbledon), and football or basketball where only certain situations are challengeable. As an athlete you must know the fine lines, and use them to your advantage. There are occasions where a CHALLENGE is called, not because you or your coach truly believe the officials were wrong, but as a means to slow down the pace of the game, affect the momentum or set an offensive or defensive set. It's all part of the "game"!
Again, very true in the business world as well. Depending on the call or issue, as an employee you do have the opportunity to CHALLENGE a ruling either by going directly to your boss, your bosses boss or HR. Clearly you must know your company's overall culture, as well as your boss' leadership style. Many companies and their leadership do not thinking highly of having their boat rocked. So, play this card wisely!
OFFICIATING – it's important to know who's officiating and what are their tendencies when it comes to enforcing the rules, or in some cases, ignoring the rules. Every athlete in every sport modifies their play to accommodate the officiating of the rules. Think the baseball strike zone. Some officials are loose in their interpretation of the rules and what they call you on.
You see this in most sports, but my favorite example is Ed Hochuli of the NFL. This is a non-nonsense guy who if you look at his physique you realize he has spent much time in the gym. He might even believe he could step on the field the day he's officiating and compete. He's a trial attorney, and I'm not sure if that's good or bad for whoever is unfortunate enough to be on the opposing side. He's a stickler for rules, and believes in thorough explanations of the penalty being assessed.
One of my favorite is when he announced over the microphone during a 2007 regular season game between the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots "There was no foul on the play. It was not a hold. The defender was just overpowered." Okay then. I guess that explains that.
In the business world, some cultures are very stiff and heavily regulated, not only with internal rules, but external governmental rules or regulations design to make you play fair. If you are not prone to following the rules or like to cross the line occasionally, you're best to find a culture that is open to employees exploring avenues outside of the conventional approaches. Otherwise, you're going to definitely clash with the company culture and its leadership, or worse, with the government.
SUBJECT TO CHANGE – No matter the sport the rules of the game evolve and change. Sometimes this occurs from one season to the next, but sometimes varies within the same year depending on the event. Earlier I referred to the opportunity to challenge calls in some sports and not others. Tennis players must adapt from tournament to tournament to the varying rules. Players must adapt accordingly. When I played volleyball in High School (yes, that was a while ago) points were scored only if you served. By the time I got to college that rule had changed to rally scoring. A miscue resulted in a point for the opponent. Ping pong made a similar change in early 2000.
And, the most important thing you must know about sports or business is that the rules are subject to change! It's your responsibility as an athlete, employee or business owner to recognize that indeed the rules have changed, or that the rules "need" to change. Either way, in sports or business, you must be flexible, agile (one of those corporate buzz words that makes me cringe) and adapt to the new rules. If you don't adapt, you won't survive…you'll either be subbed out or benched as an athlete, demoted or replaced as an employee, or in business your relevance in the marketplace may be negatively affected.
Just think; MySpace, Yahoo, Tower Records, CompUSA, Circuit City, Borders, Kodak and more. Many of these businesses didn't adapt or keep up with the changes in innovation and/or technology. Cameras are a perfect example. We went from manual to auto focus, from developing film over time to instamatics via the Polaroid that delivered your picture allowing you to watch it develop in front of your eyes. Twenty years ago, that was super advanced.
Today we love our digital cameras, and it's just a matter of time until our camera isn't needed because we all use our 6 Megapixel cameras on our phones. Guess what? Kodak forgot to show up to the innovation party even though they were one of the early digital camera makers. Businesses that do not adapt to the rules of the game suddenly realize no one is playing with their ball on the court and they no longer have any skin in the game!
What about employees? I watched it happen in the 90s to Graphic Designers who weren't able to adapt or just plain didn't want to adapt to the rules changing. The entire field was rocked by the computer era. Those old school designers who weren't able to learn the software are no longer in the field. There are those who say the industry was forever changed, negatively, as the new designers weren't "true artists" in the traditional sense resulting in inferior work. I don't happen to be part of that line of thinking. I started designing on Adobe Photoshop version 2.0. Designers, think about it, this version had no "undo"! Unimaginable, right? If it wasn't for the Mac and Adobe (or even the acquisition of Seattle based Aldus), I wouldn't be in this field. I'm far from a traditional fine artist, but I'm extremely creative, and If I do say so myself, a pretty good designer! Ultimately, every time a new version of software comes out, all designers must adapt or become obsolete.
UNSPOKEN RULES – Whether you're talking golf (a sport of honor) or baseball, the unspoken rules are regularly followed by athletes day in and day out.
For example, in baseball, it's absolutely taboo to take a shortcut across the pitcher's mound on your way back to your dugout after being thrown out on base. My favorite story includes the NY Yankees, Alex Rodriguez, who apparently decided it was just as quick to go from third base back to his dugout by crossing the pitcher's mound. Not only did he cross the mound he crossed one of those unspoken baseball rules that says you don't do that. Oakland As pitcher Dallas Braden (who?) yelled, "Get off my [expletive] mound". Now, everyone knows you don't do that, so why did A-Rod do it…one can only guess, but it did make me chuckle, as here's one of sports unspoken rules.
Golf has many of those unspoken rules…like it's bad form for spectators to have the gall to take pictures when Tiger or any PGA golfer is teeing off. Tiger has gotten downright indignant over such an affront, that's he's gone as far as breaking the camera of the responsible (or dare I say irresponsible) fan. What other sport do athletes perform in absolute quite mess. it's actually quite ridiculous if you ask me, but it definitely pays to remember this rule as a spectator.
The business world is filled with many UNSPOKEN RULES, and if you aren't schooled early on you'll make serious mistakes against the company, culture or leadership. At the company I worked at for 10 years we had our share of UNSPOKEN RULES, but because of the culture we often traipsed right over these rules for fun. The open-door culture meant that you could walk into any C-levels office at any time. And because the CEO had an office with two doors, we would take a shortcut (remember the pitcher's mound) through his office on our way to another location. I was particular in trouble with this shortcut, because I walked 100 MPH throughout the office and would turn the corner and start to make my shortcut only to discover six strides in that the CEO was actually there. Doh! Sometimes for fun, we'd do it on purpose…because you could! I imagine not all businesses allow this type of desecration of the executive offices, but it certainly pays to know what the most egregious crimes against the UNSPOKEN RULES before you commit an infraction.
So, if there's one thing you remember, every business and sport has it's own rules. It's been said that the most culturally advanced companies encourage their employees to make mistakes. Just like in sports, mistakes enable learning and discovery of new things. You may be granted a DO-OVER should your mistakes not pane out, but you better know the rules of the game. It's also wise to remember, the rules of the game are SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Whether you're an athlete or not, and whether you're ready or not, be ready for the rules to change. You have a choice to play by these new rules, CHALLENGE the rules or sit on the sidelines and watch. Whether you're an athlete, employee or the leadership, if you don't play by the written and unwritten rules of the game, you'll turn into an unpaid spectator, unemployed or out of business.
KNOW THE RULES…that's the number one rule you must abide by whether in life or sports!
Whether you choose to abide by them or not, that's up to you!
Read Part 2 of this series, Sports & Business: The Importance of Coaching