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Anticipating the curveball in your future

Does this happen to you? You start reading an article in your doctor's office waiting room, leave the magazine when called into an exam room and then stare at the wall for 30 minutes with nothing to read but the chart that shows all the muscles you could tear before you die? Fortunately, I was just smart enough on my last visit to bring in Sports Illustrated and finish an article I started.

The story was about a ski racer who competed in the Olympics with five broken ribs and a punctured lung (Sports Illustrated, Aug. 8, 2011). Probably not the right article to read in a doctor's office! I then found something less painful but more applicable to business.

An article titled "It's All About Anticipation" dispelled a myth about phenomenal athletes. It turns out that world-class athletes such as Rafael Nadal and Ryan Howard don't actually have quicker reflexes than most of us; they have the ability to see the future. The article says, "... pros can tell where the ball is going much more accurately, much earlier and with much less information." It turns out that a major league baseball player must have the correct swing before the ball is halfway to the plate, so he must read the pitcher's motion before the ball leaves his hand.

How do effective business leaders anticipate the future? Do they have quicker reaction times than others? I don't think so. However, they watch very carefully for clues from the pitcher (customers and competitors), and they're not afraid to swing.

I see far too many CEOs who either don't look at the mound or they watch fastballs go by without swinging. Only when they have two strikes do they begin to pay attention, and then it's often too late.

What processes and practices do you use to seek clues from your market? Are you facing the pitcher's mound, or is your head in the sand? Clues are oftentimes there, but you have to watch.

Are you willing to swing - perhaps via new products, markets or venturing - or will you watch three fastballs come down the strike zone, hoping for four wild pitches? If you're overly comfortable with your current situation, it can be very uncomfortable to swing and risk missing.

Too often we watch superstars, whether the field of play is sport or business, and wish we had the same reflexes - when in fact we're fast enough but not paying attention and not willing to swing.

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Todd Ordal

Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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