March Madness is upon us, and that means high-energy college basketball is everywhere. The competition is fierce and features lots of rivalries. Games are intense: carefully-developed strategies and plays either unfold with precision or come flying apart on the court. Players have to make split-second decisions and deal with how the set-up looks in the moment, not how it looked in practice. If you are a business owner you have a good appreciation for that kind of competition and pressure—even if you’ve never picked up a basketball. We can learn a thing or two from college ball if we think about the tension between planning and execution, between how we plan our business future and how we implement that plan on “game day”—which for most of us is every day.
One of the great books on college basketball is “A Sense of Where You Are” by John McPhee. Published in 1965, it’s a profile of Bill Bradley and his incredible NCAA career at Princeton University. It’s an in-depth look at Bradley, his gifts, his team and coaches, and their game style. Bradley was a gold medalist in the ’64 Olympics and in his senior year led Princeton to Ivy and Eastern championships and a third-place finish in the NCAA. His performance still shines in NCAA tournament history books, with a second in points-scored in 5 games (177) and a fifth in all-time points-per-game (35.4). Did I forget to mention that he was also a Rhodes Scholar, played pro with the Knicks (including for 2 NBA championships), and was later a Senator and Presidential candidate? Not bad.
But what’s interesting about this book is not Bill Bradley’s stats but his approach to the game. His game was about awareness. He had an uncanny ability to mentally slow the game down and to perceive things happening at the periphery. To be able to see and exploit opportunities or vulnerabilities that others had missed. I think that’s what Bradley meant by having “a sense of where you are”. We can all benefit from this idea and we can employ it in business. Too often we get caught up in the demands of daily work keeping our company going and addressing immediate issues. We call it “keeping our eye on the ball,” but sports greats like Bradley point to thinking beyond the ball to the whole game. How do we go about doing that in a practical way?
The first step is to slow down your game and look around. Find a good time to take a day or even a few hours off and get some mental distance from your work. Then think about the big picture (the “whole game”) and ask yourself what motivates you and where you are headed with your business. Are you looking to grow it? Do you want to sell it? Do you need more capital or to refinance debt? Stopping and having a look around in a reflective way makes it easier to get a sense of where you are and to plan for where you want to go. And that will make you a better player at what you do.
At Corporate Finance Associates we like to help business owners play at the top of their game. Sometimes that means being trusted advisors when owners are trying to figure out their next steps, whether it’s planning for succession or an exit down the road. Often we’re engaged for a full-court press to sell or buy a business using our broad experience and extensive networks. And sometimes business owners call just to get a sense of the possibilities, and we welcome that too. But here’s the thing: however you want to work with us, we pride ourselves on listening and staying focused on your goals and your game plan. Because whoever you like for the Final Four, at CFA we’re on your team.
Posted by Sam Adams.
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If you want to check out “A Sense of Where You Are” here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Sense-Where-You-Are-Princeton/dp/0374526893