Saturday, November 27, 2010

Take What The Defense Gives You

I've noticed that fewer and fewer young people are sports fans these days, which is a shame, because the world of sports is rich with useful metaphors.

For example, last week during my regular basketball game, I was having trouble scoring against my friend Mon. I used to be able to bully him in the post. But not last week.

I asked my friend John, a sort of basketball Yoda, what was wrong. Naturally, he had the answer.

"Mon is playing off you and standing near the basket. When you try to post him up, he's ready and waiting for you. Instead, you should just take advantage of the space he's giving you and shoot as soon as you get the ball."
(As a side note, when Mon and I first met, he was a 150 pound beanpole. Since then, he's put on 30 pounds and I've lost 15, reversing what had once been a considerable weight advantage for me.)

In other words, take what the defense gives you.

Business, like sports, is about tradeoffs. You can't make the iPhone slim and elegant, and give it a physical keyboard. (As much as I wish Steve Jobs would!)

The competitive landscape for your firm is the defense. Your competitors are defenders, and they are each covering various portions of the playing field (with the varying degrees of skill). Your job as an entrepreneur is to read the defense and take what the defense gives you.

Conversely, you have to decide what you're willing to give up to your opponents. Are you going to cede the high-end business? The low end? There is no single right answer, but you have to make a choice rather than trying to be all things to all people, or trying to beat everyone at their own game.


John J. Walters said...

Interesting concept -- play sports not to learn about sports but to apply the lessons learned to the business world.

Sounds like our modern equivalent of using Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" as a business book.

Once man measured himself on the battlefield. Now he must measure himself in the boardroom, or at least on the basketball court.

Roy said...

Good post and I like that you used the metaphor on both sides, not only what is your competition giving up but what will you choose to give up to competitors. It's an important strategic question to decide vs. just letting the chips fall where they may.