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Posted: August 29, 2011

Anticipating the curveball in your future

Get ready to swing at it -- before it's too late

Todd Ordal

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 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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Readers Respond

Thanks TC. Fascinating stuff! I know of your work with world class athletes so appreciate the perspective. In the athletic world it might be reflexes. In the business world there is a marvelous phrase from Henry Mintzberg, "prepared minds.". Essentially the same thing--you can respond only if you are prepared. Cheers Todd By Todd Ordal on 2011 09 01
Todd, you always add a little business enlightenment to my day with your articles. Thanks. Here's some additional fodder for you. For some world-class athletes the points of your article extend even beyond anticipation. For example, professional tennis players. For a tennis pro to be able to return a hard hit ground stroke when playing the net, there is literally not enough time in the normal neuropathway (eyes to brain to motor neurons) for your brain to take in the information about the shot coming (the swing, or the flight of the ball) and make a decision of how to return the shot. In elite athletes, the neuropathway is short circuited and bypasses the brain and goes through the spinal chord (instead of the brain) to the motor neurons. The return shot is made from reflex and requires no thinking. Reflex is developed by repetition. If you are a CEO who doesn't look at the mound, in this quickly changing business environment, your reaction/anticipation/reflex will be slow and your next job may be cleaning the dugout. By TC North on 2011 08 31
I forgot one other thing. I'm generally talking about small businesses where the CEO is the owner. sorry By John Wray on 2011 08 29
Thanks, Liz. John- My experience with a large number of CEOs is that they do not have a process in place to look at what is coming their way. Good intentions aren't enough. You correctly qualified your comment by adding the word "successful" to CEOs and I concur. However, some can be "lucky," for a while by putting their head down and executing well. As long as their marketplace/competitive environment doesn't change, they succeed; if it does, they must quickly catch up or go home. By Todd Ordal on 2011 08 29
Hi Todd, Another well done article. I agree that the clues are there but one must be looking for them. Great visual on head in the sand or standing on the mound. Liz By liz wendling on 2011 08 29
Good article, but I suspect that successful CEO's intuitively know it. If they don't they fail sooner or later. You ignore ANYTHING in re business at your peril By John Wray on 2011 08 29

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