Talent can take you a long way, but so can the right mindset. Tenacity and focus are key to success.
“Fail to plan, plan to fail” – so the saying goes. My favourite motivational quote of all time is this one, from ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
Successful business owners don’t fear failure. In fact, some of the greatest leaders of our time have experienced their fair share of failures.
I love a sporting analogy.
As a football fan, I watched the UEFA Women’s Euros tournament with interest. England triumphed against Spain in their quarter-final, with no shortage of focus and tenacity. The Lionesses were losing 1-0, against one of the favourites to win the competition, but scored late on to send the game into extra-time and went on to win 2-1.
It was a similar story in Sweden’s quarter-final against Belgium. As the top ranked nation in the tournament. Sweden were expected to win – but struggled to find a way through the Belgium defence.
It wasn’t Sweden’s greatest performance, but they had a game plan and stuck to it. The clock ticked past 90 minutes and, despite more than 30 shots from the Swedes (compared to just three attempts by Belgium) the score was still 0-0.
I got a sense that the Belgians were already mentally preparing themselves for extra-time – but Sweden weren’t. In stoppage time, the favourites won a corner that Belgium’s goalkeeper managed to punch clear. The ball fell to a Swedish player, whose shot was blocked and, when the rebound fell to Linda Sembrandt, she pounced to score and send Sweden into the semi-finals.
The point here is to keep going. Be tenacious. Stick to the plan. Sweden typified that mentality and proved why it works. They hadn’t managed to score, despite more than 30 attempts on goal. In the end, the winner arrived with their last chance of the game, in stoppage time (and they still needed three goes at it). This was, literally, an example of being tenacious if you want to cross the line.
I wasn’t particularly talented as a footballer, but what I did strive to do was to compensate for my lack of ability with effort. Here’s another saying I like: “The harder you work, the luckier you get”. One of the highlights of my playing career was scoring a hat-trick in the first 12 minutes of my debut for a team.
It was the perfect hat-trick – left foot, right foot, header – but none of the three goals had anything to do with talent. I left the talent to my team-mates and was in the right place at the right time. Our opponents substituted their goalkeeper and I didn’t score in any of the remaining 78 minutes. My three goals helped us to a 4-2 win.
But what has success in sport got to do with success in business? There are so many similarities. Take Wayne Gretzky’s quote as an example. If you don’t shoot, you don’t score.
The more shots you take, the more likely you are to score. There were no goals in 10 attempts for Sweden. They kept going. Another 10 shots. Still no goal. They kept going. Another 10 shots. Still no goal. Despite 30 shots without a goal, Sweden were tenacious. It paid off. All that mattered was the final score: 1-0 to Sweden. They had done what was required to book their place in the semi-finals.
I applied the same philosophy to my time as a director with business networking group BNI. My role was to increase membership numbers.
I started out in BNI as a member of what is known as a pre-launch ‘core group’. When I joined, our group had 15 members and a few more joined after me – including a couple of people I invited to visit our meetings.
BNI had a ‘launch strategy’ that involved asking all the members to send letters to 40 local business owners, inviting them to the launch event. The idea was that some of the 40 people invited would attend and with everyone sending out 40 invitations, we’d have a big crowd at the launch event and would significantly increase our membership. The theory being that more members would equal more business being generated. BNI didn’t mind if the same person was invited by more than one member. It was a numbers game.
It’s fair to say that the majority of the members thought it was a lot to ask them to send invitations to 40 business owners. Some were shocked that they were being asked to do that. I took a different view.
Fuelled by some Gretzky-inspired focus and determination, I didn’t stop at 40 invitations. I kept going. I passed 50 invitations, then 75, then 100. I finally stopped at 130 invitations. Why? Because I figured out that more invitations would result in more visitors and more new members – and the end result would be more new business.
The result? We had 70 visitors at our launch event. Half of all the visitors that attended were people that I had invited. We doubled our membership as a result of that launch event. Funnily enough, half of the new members were people I had invited to the meeting.
I went on to become a BNI director. The area director advised me against trying to launch a new business networking group in December, but I was tenacious, determined and enthusiastic. We broke the record for most visitors to the first meeting of a new BNI ‘chapter’ as they were referred to, and I went on to break other records for visitor numbers and membership growth.
I took lots of shots and created lots of chances. I’d like to think part of my success was because of factors such as good communication and engaging with people, but I do know for sure that a lot of my success was down to tenacity, determination and enthusiasm.
So the motto of the story is to be more like Wayne Gretzky. Take more shots. Create more chances. Whether it is in sport or business, that is a good philosophy to adopt if you want to succeed.
If you are feeling inspired and want even more motivation to succeed, I can recommend one of my favourite motivational books: ‘Rhinocerous success – the secret to charging full speed toward every opportunity’ by Scott Alexander.