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The Sports Lesson That Can Help Your Business Now

Athletes spend most of their time failing, not winning. Great athletes take those losses and learn from them. Business leaders & entrepreneurs can apply those same sports lessons to business to be more successful. Find out what the one lesson is you need to take from sports and apply it to your professional life.

During my 18 years, I came to bat almost 10,000 times. I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times. You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at-bats a season. That means I played seven years in the major leagues without even hitting the ball. –

Mickey Mantle, Baseball great and Hall of Famer

There are so many sports quotes out there about winning and losing, but this one struck a chord with me. It’s the focus on the losses or failures that stays with me. For as much success as Mantle had at the plate, he knew that he failed just as often as he succeeded. Great athletes know that they’ll take losses throughout their careers, but what makes them great is that they take each loss and figure out how to do better the next time. 

Stoic philosophers call this the “reverse clause,” where people take the opposite of an idea and turn it into a positive. It’s pretty easy to figure out how to do that in the sports world, but what about in business? Is there a way we can use this in our professional lives and create a better business

Turning a Loss Into a Victory

Athletes lose when they’re outplayed or out-strategized. As part of their training process, coaches and athletes look past the loss and uncover how they can improve in the future. Hall of Fame NBA coach, Pat Riley, said it best in his book, The Winner Within, “You have no choice about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

Transforming Loss Into Success in Business

Ryan Holiday explains how it’s incredibly applicable to the business world in his book The Daily Stoic, “When a technical glitch erases our work, our reverse clause is that we can start fresh and do it better this time. Our progress can be impeded or disrupted, but the mind can always be changed–it retains the power to redirect the path.”

Leaders and entrepreneurs can use this same tactic when building and growing their companies. For example,

  • Looking at the positive aspects of the failed product launch to make the next one better.
  • Using their knowledge gaps to identify microlearning opportunities or work with people who have that knowledge.
  • Sharing their failures with others so everyone can learn from the experience without going through it themselves.

How Can Sports Help the Rest of Us?

The reverse clause can work for everyone, from entry-level staff to the C-suite. By looking at the positive side of things all the time, you can learn more from every situation and create a more hopeful outlook for yourself and those around you. 

For example, when you have to take a vacation day because your youngest child is sick, don’t think about all the meetings or work you’re missing. Show gratitude that you’re able to take the time to care for your child and show them a little more attention that day. 

When your boss reminds you of the presentation you promised to give to a workgroup next week, don’t think about how your mind blanked during your last presentation, and you forgot a whole section of information you wanted to talk about. Think of ways you can make the next time go more smoothly, like bringing up some notes with you or practicing in an empty conference room. 

Real-World Examples of Entrepreneurs Using Failure to Launch Successes 

Cal Henderson, co-founder of the messaging app Slack, originally wanted to get into the video game world with his CEO partner, Stewart Butterfield. Instead, they ended up co-creating Flickr. After selling it, they again tried to break into the video game market but failed. While their game failed, the development team continued using the messaging platform they’d built into the game because they found it was a good way of working. They focused their energies on that and turned it into Slack. 

Mark Cuban, serial entrepreneur and a panelist on the TV show Shark Tank, is known for all of his business ventures and failures. He’s not shy talking about them and describing what he learned from them. For example, when he struggled as a short-order cook in college or couldn’t open wine bottles as a waiter, he learned that it doesn’t matter how many times he failed. Or that he got fired from his first corporate sales job because he closed a deal without approval from the CEO. “It doesn’t matter how many times you (mess) up,” he said in an interview. “You only gotta be right once.” 

The goal in business and life isn’t to wait until the situation is just right for you to be successful. You’ve got to fail to learn and grow for the future. The key is to learn from each failure, so your future efforts improve on your past, even in small ways. Mark Cuban used to track each of his new ventures on a calendar to ensure that it lasted longer than his previous ones, even if it was just one day longer. 

Or, as Michael Jordan famously said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

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