What’s Wrong With Small Ball?

We’re getting close to the start of baseball season. It’s always felt like a time of renewal – Spring has arrived (despite snow on opening day from time to time) and that’s a very good thing in my book. I grew up playing the game and it’s always intrigued me how baseball metaphors run throughout life here in the US of A.

Matt Wieters blocks home plate from Derek Jeter.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the baseball terms on my mind these days is “small ball.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a strategy of getting men on base and advancing them through a series of hits or walks rather than placing an emphasis on home runs or big plays.  To me it’s a great business strategy these days and here is why. Business is filled with what I call “Rob Deers”.

In his prime, Rob Deer weighed about 210 and there were many seasons where he barely hit his weight.  Nevertheless, he was a valuable member of 5 different major league teams because he hit home runs.  A lot.  In fact, he would often appear as a league leader in both home runs and strike outs.  Go big or go home personified, I guess.  A lot of businesses think like Rob Deer.  They’re after the home run and while they might strike out a lot when they connect it’s a big win.  The problem with that is that there are also a lot of lean times in between.

I prefer to do business more like Derek Jeter.  Lead the league in hits and in runs scored.  That’s small ball personified.  Sure, hitting one over the wall is fun and almost everyone does that from time to time.  But unlike baseball, in business one isn’t assured of another game tomorrow if we don’t produce today.  Playing small ball in business isn’t heroic but it can be profitable.  The notion that it’s just as difficult to land a small order as it is to land a big one might be true but I’ve found that there are far fewer opportunities and far more competition as the size of the deal grows.

Don’t think for a minute this is about lowering standards.  It’s hard to play small ball well since it requires team work and a squad of folks who can hit the ball.  Managing that activity well requires someone special.  You?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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