Jeter is adept at reducing the clutter that often engulfs players, especially perennial All- Stars who play in major markets like New York. He is a master at keeping things simple in his world. He is strong-willed enough to disregard things that do not concern him or to wait to address them until they do concern him.
Tiger Woods has it. Derek Jeter has it. ARod just found it. And it's the reason they're winners. "It" is mental toughness and the ability it gives them to focus on the task at hand. To prevent the noise and distractions around them from getting in their head. To simplify and execute, again and again, what they're capable of doing.
It, not their raw physical skills, is why I watch, often with chills of wonderment, their exploits. Believe me, it's easy to allow thoughts (of doubt, consequence, worry, anticipation…) to enter your head when you're standing over that big putt. I know. It's hard to shut them out, completely. Tiger does that.
A few games ago, I sent a text message to a close friend and fellow Yankee fan, that the Yankees "…have 'The Look'." What I meant was that the entire team had started to carry itself like Jeter. Quiet, focused, confident and in the moment, like there was no place else in the world that they belonged.
Mental toughness and the ability to focus pays dividends in business as well as sport:
It gives you the ability to concentrate on what's really important amidst the clutter.
It gives you the ability to do the right thing when temptations to take shortcuts present themselves.
It gives you the ability handle that difficult conversation with calm, professionalism and even grace.
It fuels the perseverance required to push through difficult times.
It provides confidence in your ability to handle extreme challenges
It is contagious.
One of my mentors, Ray Martino, a tremendously effective president at Symbol, had it. He used to stress that at any particular point of time, only about three things in our business really mattered. "Focus on those, get them right, and the rest will be OK." He also regularly explained that sometimes it's not worth worrying about a decision until it needed to be made. "Don't clutter your head with things that just might take care of themselves." When it was time to make that decision however, Ray made it firmly and with confidence. Ray had mental toughness, and was a winner.
Do you have the mental toughness to play on the big stage? To win?
It's October, and for this long time Yankee fan, thoughts inevitably turn to balls and strikes… and in this case to a connection between them and the world of business.
"Hit it where they ain't." That, according to (very) old timer Willie Keeler (Baltimore Orioles 1896 – 1897), is how you get on base and drive in runs in our national pastime. I believe that inside that old adage lies a lesson that every business person should take to heart.
If you want to boast of a high batting average, you should aim for the gaps, not the shortstop, especially if he's Derek Jeter (with apologies to fans of all other stripes than pin). If you want to grow your business profitably into a leadership position, you should plan to deliver unique solutions to underserved applications, customers and markets. These are the "gaps" of business opportunity.
Trying to build a business by doing a little bit better, or just a little bit different, than entrenched competitors is tough going at best. Yes, you'll get a grounder just past the shortstop's reach on occasion, but more often than not, you'll be out at first.
My current company, Intelleflex, has been built from day one on a gap strategy, in marked contrast to many other players in RFID technology. I believe that the principal reason that RFID's breakout success still lies ahead of us is that, lured by the promise of huge volumes, many of those other players have been trying to squeeze one by the shortstop, by, in effect, offering a bit more capability than bar coding, for only a bit higher price. Bar codes are the Derek Jeter of automatic identification technology. Bar coding is flexible, cost effective, proven, and broadly entrenched. Tough to beat that allstar combination with an incrementalist value proposition.
Our strategy is to try to get a hit where bar coding ain't — and where it will never be.
Bar codes are great, but they will never be able to measure and log temperatures. They can't be read at 100 meters distance. Can't be located in large open areas. Can't read through optically opaque materials. Can't store 60 thousand bits of read / write data. We can do all those things. As importantly, It turns out that there are underserved, high value business problems that depend on various combinations of these "extended capabilities". Those are our gaps, and that's where we're aiming the ball. (We may still go down swinging, but it won't be for a flawed gameplan.)
Do you have a clear picture of your gaps? The real, compelling and meaningful differences between your offerings and those of your competition? The customers to whom those differences matter? If not, perhaps it's time to watch a little baseball, and think a little business.