“To play it safe is not to play.” – Robert Altman (Film Director)
I am still recovering from Sunday’s epic (five hours and fifty-three minutes) men’s Grand Slam final at the Australian Open. No I did not experience cramps like the two players Novak Djokovic (winner) and Rafael Nadal. I made sure I had plenty of bananas and Evian by my TV set while I watched. What I am trying to come to terms with is how much the men’s game has changed since both players entered the scene. Power tennis – players now position themselves way behind the baseline, go toe to toe, play relentless defense to break down their opponent. Either they construct their shots to deliver a winner or they wait for their opponent to make an unforced error. Consequently, in the new era of power tennis, I am now witnessing statistics where winning players have a negative ratio, more unforced errors to winners. In Sunday’s match Djokovic (#1 in the world) had two less unforced errors than Nadal (#2 in the world), but overall a negative ratio of minus 12 to Nadal’s ratio of minus 27.
I hope I have not lost you sports fans. What I am advocating is playing defense might work for men’s tennis, but not in business. In business you need to play for winners versus waiting for your competition to make mistakes. I mean competitive mistakes are great, but why play it safe? A good example is Coca Cola (#1 and #2 if you factor in Diet Coke) versus Pepsi? Did Coca Cola play it safe or did they dive into the new digital world, make some mistakes, but are now hitting more winners. Did IBM’s former CEO Samuel Palmisano play it safe or he came up with some innovative winners by shifting from the low margin personal computing business to the higher margin services and software businesses.
I hope you are prepared to make more winners vs. unforced errors in 2012!