How do you respond to a crushing defeat?  As an entrepreneur, how well equipped are you to deal with failure? My team got killed 2 nights ago. As I sat in the bleachers during the first quarter, when the board showed 18-0, and the home court crowds cheered wildly after every masterful display of athletic supremacy their highly talented players regaled them with, I thought to myself: why does a team like ours keep at it? What makes us try harder when it gets harder, move faster down the court after each rebound as if we could make up the deficit in 1 ½ minutes left on the first quarter to get within reasonable distance of the other team?

We have all seen in baseball, when you are ahead and pitching, and your opponent’s tie and winning runs are on base on the top of the 9th inning, and the top of the order of the other team goes to bat, that if their fourth batter in the order is up you may have the catcher move outside of the plate to catch the outside balls he will be thrown. The decision has been made to “not play” this batter. It is as if the pitcher and the catcher have “given up” on the chances of striking this guy out. Are they really giving up? Why doesn’t the losing team in basketball decide to “not play”, or at least not sweat it as much and over exert, because they face what appear to be insurmountable odds of winning?

Some of the answers are obvious and some are not as obvious. There are issues of pride and accountability at play. As a player you are accountable to yourself, your coach, and to your teammates. In non-professional sports, as is the case here, you sign up to play because you like some or all of these: the game, competing, learning, belonging, acceptance, winning, working hard, validation, proving yourself, perfecting yourself, giving your all. There are many other reasons aside from these. It’s not surprising they correlate to the reasons why many decide to become entrepreneurs.

If the object is to score more than the other team, in basketball you do this by taking all the good shots that will score and blocking the other team’s as much as possible. In baseball, you do this by getting as many base hits as possible and not letting your opponent do the same. Skill, execution and strategy are important both in sports and in business. In baseball, skill rules, and I would say strategy drives execution. In basketball, you may say pure skill is king, to the point that it looks like execution drives the strategy because of how fast the action is. My team’s first sign of life at the 18-0 mark on the board during the first quarter was a 3 pointer from the shortest girl in our team, who happens to be a highly talented outside shooter. In an ironic reverse twist of the battle of Thermopylae – as we “underwhelmed” the Spartans in this case – we knew at that point that we had some skills to be competitive and to hold our own. We continued to do this to the point of shortening the lead to 10 points by the end of the 2nd quarter, but in a non-reverse twist of the same battle’s first seven days in 480 BC, the Spartans proved that their training and being in their home turf gave them the advantage – only for the first week, before they were annihilated. Of course, the outcome of this game was totally reverse from the battle, I don’t mean to confuse anyone.

As I sat the whole time watching the constant fast break turnovers and our missed shots, I kept thinking about how skill is perfected via practice and commitment. Skill comes first, before strategy or execution. Without it you will have a harder time as an entrepreneur – you must be good at something. If you don’t know exactly what that is (it may be staring you in the face), you by all means have to find out what it is or continue perfecting your chosen best skill until you dominate at it at some point in your entrepreneurial life.

Going back to the outcome of the game, there are much less confusing words from Michael Jordan in that famous Air Jordan TV ad from back in the day, where he mentions that in his career he missed 9,000 shots and lost almost 300 games. He was trusted 26 times to take the game winning shot and he missed. At the end he famously ends by giving one of the best pieces of advice you can give an entrepreneur: “I failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed”.

Our View from the Top – December 5, 2017