Take Your Eye Off the Ball

mara beast

Keep your eye on the ball!

I have coached youth softball for the past five years, and have uttered those 6 words more times than I can count. Particularly when the girls were very young, it was important to help them push past irresistible distractions like building sandcastles in the infield and picking dandelions in the outfield, and to focus on the one thing that matters most. The ball. Hit it, catch it, dodge it… whatever the case may be, but zero in on doing that one thing right.

As the girls get older though, the game gets more complex. Of course, “keeping your eye on the ball” is still critical, but stopping to first “take your eye off the ball” becomes arguably more important. How many outs are there? What is the score? Does this pitcher like to throw change ups? Should I take a pitch so that my speedy teammate on first base can steal second base? Are the infielders playing deep? The list goes on and on…

It no longer is enough to just do your one job and swing away… it is important to first understand the context, the competition, and the potential scenarios. It will always be important to execute in the moment, but first stepping out of the batter’s box and seeing where this moment fits within the broader game should inform how we take that swing.

In the vast world of innovation, we are much like that batter— eager to step up to the plate and take a big swing. But do we discipline ourselves to first step out of the moment and make sure that we are taking the best possible swing at the optimal time?

Before we start writing a new concept or idea, do we thoroughly research what work has been done before?

As we look to rapidly launch a product into a new market, do we fully understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of our competition?

Do we learn from our mentors, coaches, and experts before we storm forward, or are we in too big of a hurry to take the field?

As we look for new ideas, do we allow ourselves time to study trends, to brainstorm new approaches, and to look at the problem from a different angle?

Do we pause, reflect, and reevaluate our approach as we go along, or do we let our addictions to activity distract us from our big picture goals?

Particularly in the overwhelming pace and pressure of 2017, it is easy to want to just step in the batter’s box and swing big. And in the short run, that approach may allow for some quick results and some good numbers. But in the long run, champions are born from fully understanding the gravitas of the moment, understanding the game within the game, and anticipating (and creating) the future.

We all want to take some big swings—we just need the added discipline to step back first and understand our context, our competition, and our scenarios. And maybe even allow ourselves a moment to build a sandcastle or pick some dandelions along the way.

Note: I originally published this blog at http://www.upstream360.com.

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