By Chris Simmons
Whether in corporate board rooms or athletic fields, large organizations around the world find themselves snatching defeat from the jaws of victory every day. Despite being stronger, more experienced, perhaps better financed, in many cases they find themselves outmaneuvered by a much small competitor. How does this happen? Because employees (or players) of the large entities don’t pay attention to the here and now. Allow me to offer an example.
In college, I was captain of our men’s slow-pitch softball team. Unlike varsity sports, as a club team we had complete control when it came to selecting our opponents. Rather than pick like-sized schools, we did what any college athlete would do – we lined up the biggest colleges imaginable. Our schedule included Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Clemson, the University of North Carolina, Maryland, and the University of Virginia, among others. Coming from a small military college of 1400 students, our opponents undoubtedly anticipated some easy victories. We were quick to disappoint them – and ultimately won about half of our games.
We knew every almost college we played fielded a team better than us in every regard. The Virginia Tech players, for example, were the champions of their 450+ team intramural league – and we split a double header against them. How was such a feat possible? They outhit us, they out-ran us, and they out-powered us. Our lone saving grace was that we out-thought them.
Unlike baseball, in softball, the batter WILL hit the ball. After all, it’s the size of a grapefruit – it’s almost impossible to miss. But our simple tactic, the one that so many teams failed to anticipate or counter, was our precision ball placement. We drilled relentlessly in finding gaps between the infield and outfield and dropping the ball right in the slot.
For the most part, we hit singles using this method. However, after grinding out a dozen or so singles every inning, our competitors would get frustrated and started making errors. This opened the door for us to make doubles, triples, and the occasional home runs. Some of my players were so bold we physically signaled our intent by adjusting our batting stance to line-up with the gap in their field coverage. Still, no one noticed, or if they did, they didn’t communicate it.
You would think after a few innings (or the first game of a double header), our opponents would have adjusted their fielding. You’d be wrong. They refused to adapt and stuck with what they knew. In doing so, they virtually guaranteed our victory.
Our competitors were gifted players who came together as amazingly talented teams. In contrast, we were simply good players who excelled at one very narrow facet of the game. We obsessed about ball placement because it was the only way we could successfully compete. Our method wasn’t pretty or exciting, but it consistently delivered amazing results.
Where is your organization vulnerable? Is there a single point-of-failure (like ball placement) that renders you vulnerable to a more nimble David? Even worse, does your organization suffer from multiple failure points? Could you survive the onslaught of a laser-focused competitor? How responsive is your team in identifying potential rivals? Are flexibility and change buzzwords or practiced processes?
In a battle of David vs. Goliath, it’s not a matter of if, but when. Is your organization ready?