Rick Baker Thought Posts
Left Menu Space Holder

About the author

Name of author Rick Baker, P.Eng.

E-mail me Send mail
Follow me LinkedIn Twitter



<<  April 2021  >>

View posts in large calendar

Recent Comments

Comment RSS

An excerpt from a note sent to a business associate

by Rick Baker
On May 7, 2009

Spirited Investors helps businesses tackle their problems and opportunities. We do this by investing money, know-how, effort, and time. 

Spirited’s key investment focus, at this time, is smaller businesses. Smaller businesses: think in terms of private companies ranging from early-stage revenue to $10,000,000 in sales.  

Smaller-business success is influenced in a profound way by the presence or absence of good Marketing & Sales performance.


Unfortunately, the absence is more common than the presence Together, we can fix this.  

Marketing: Most small businesses do little marketing, aside from a very-limited set of things such as attending trade shows and having a printer do up some brochures to support sales. Websites exist but often they are neither compelling nor updated. When marketing activity does happen it is rarely measured or tested. Marketing work receives perhaps sporadic attention. There is little commitment to doing marketing. Some say it is not required. They are wrong. Many think they do it right or state ‘these things are under control’. Yet, most businesses struggle at identifying: [1] target markets, [2] value propositions, and [3] unique selling propositions. Meanwhile, the whole marketing & sales process, from strategic to tactical, must start with those 3 things.  

Sales: Often, small-business owners personally handle much of the sales activity at their company. They regularly choose to do sales work rather than delegate it. They have problems when they do try to delegate it. The recruiting of sales people is another real challenge. And, about 7 out of 10 sales people shouldn’t even be in sales jobs. The 80/20 Rule is confirmed, that is, if sales success is happening at all then ‘the few’ generate the lion’s share of the sales revenue. Within an industry, most competitors do sales work more or less the same way. Not much innovation, not much creativity. So, sales attitudes can be quite lackluster and even when sales performance is happening the work isn’t much fun.  

Most small businesses do not have a written Plan for their Marketing & Sales.  

Almost all smaller businesses need help with marketing & sales [not just sales work on its own]. Even those that are earning profit are leaving money on the table and leaving clients less than fully satisfied. They would do better if they had a Marketing & Sales Plan. Marketing & sales must start with Plan the Work [ie, Napoleon Hill – Plan the Work and Work the Plan].  

Planning offers at least 2 major benefits: (1) it forces folks to think through the issues and that ‘thinking through’ alone adds value and (2) the Plan serves as a guide and a reference…it is a map. Maps help. 

We will do the smaller businesses of our community a tremendous service if we can create together an education and training ‘tool’ for marketing & sales.


The marketing & sales training tool we create should have 3 overall components: [1] marketing, [2] sales management, and [3] sales.


The existing sales training programs can provide a good starting point for the work in the sales area. Most of the sales training I have purchased is too complicated…it needs to be simplified. We must make our marketing & sales training tool ingenious and simple - that is...we must make our marketing & sales training tool elegant. Many good books and tapes exist to help us create all 3 of the parts. These 3 parts must be integrated because sales work can only be excellent and resilient if it is meshed with the results of good sales management and marketing work. And, there will be no excellence [or peace of mind] if marketing & sales work is not handled in a Plan the Work and Work the Plan way…much strategic thought, much tactical thought, alignment, measuring and testing, training, etc. 

We can create a special ‘tool’ for Marketing & Sales education and training. 

And then, we can share it. 


80/20 Rule | Entrepreneur Thinking | Investor Funding | Marketing | Sales

An Excerpt from a Message Sent to a Friend Today

by Rick Baker
On Apr 30, 2009

Commerce is changing.

Communication is changing. The 'old ways' do not work as well as they used to. We have seen rapid sales-marketing-and-purchasing changes creeping up and around us during the last 10 years. Now, things seem to have reached a new commercial zone.

[The pace of change is hastening: mail, fax, email, Web 2.0, etc.]

To grow business we need to know how to succeed in a new commercial zone.


The current economic climate presents an ideal time for growth. Many businesses are struggling to some degree and many are seeking better ways and solutions. This opens the doors for new forward-looking alliances.

Some competitors will fail and many will be distracted and doors will be opened to upbeat and strong businesses. Clients will be taken from the weak and the distracted businesses. And, these clients will be better served.


People have not changed.

But, the things that catch their attention and interest have…


The keys to marketing & sales success are still the 'old' basics:

Accurate identification and understanding of Market Niches/Target Markets/Clients

Real Value Propositions, confirmed and proven by the Clients who receive the Value

Real Differential Advantages (Unique Selling Propositions or whatever the currently-accepted descriptor is)… differences that ensure attractiveness to Clients vis-à-vis their choices to either do nothing or do business with one of our competitors

Quality Relationships

Effective Referrals and Other Routes to connect us to our Target Market Clients


The last bullet point contains most of the new stuff (ie, the stuff of the new commercial zone). Businesses can no longer rely on one or two routes to commerce. Old sales approaches are stale and yield lacklustre results. Sales training on its own does little to generate improvement of results.

So - how do we construct a multi-prong Marketing Plan that contains new & effective routes to commercial success?

That’s the interesting challenge testing our brainpower.

How do we construct a multi-prong Marketing Plan that contains new & effective routes to success?

But, let’s make sure we do not rush into this backwards.

Every day we see people ignore this crucial point: that last question is and must not be the first question.

The bullet points for the thinking process and the questions are presented above. The first question is at the 1st bullet point. The next question is at the 2nd bullet point...and so on. Yet, we see business people violate these steps. They assume or presume or conclude they have an accurate understanding of their Target Markets when they do not. Then they assume presume and conclude they understand the Value Proposition as seen from their Clients’ perspectives when they do not. Almost everything they do after that is a waste of time, effort, and money.

We must start by putting ourselves in our Clients’ shoes…and we must not free our feet from those shoes until we have finished the strategic-thinking process…and, of course, all of the implementation and tactics, the testing and measuring, and the feedback.



Communication: Improving Communication | Marketing | Sales

The Eighth Step Toward Riches - or - The First Mental Trap?

by Rick Baker
On Feb 3, 2009

In 1937, in his classic book 'Think and Grow Rich', Napoleon Hill stated Persistence as the 8th of 13 steps toward riches.

If I'm not mistaken, Bob Proctor stated he forced himself to read the Persistence chapter of Think and Grow Rich every night for a month. Proctor did that to impress upon himself the merit of Hill's words about Persistence...ie, an exercise of leading the mind by example.  

An excerpt of Napoleon Hill thought... 

'There may be no heroic connotation to the word "persistence", but the quality is to the character of man what carbon is to steel.' 

Another quote... 

'Lack of persistence is one of the major causes of failure.' 


'Those who have cultivated the habit of persistence seem to enjoy insurance against failure.' 

And one more... 

'One of the most common causes of failure is the habit of quitting when one is overtaken by temporary defeat.' 


I recently purchased a copy of André Kukla's 2007 (Anchor Canada) publication of 'Mental Traps - Overthinker's Guide to a Happier Life'. Now, the book title caught my attention. The back cover explains André Kukla is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto...that expanded my interest. (Why not support the efforts of local writers.) And, the table of contents secured my purchase: Kukla’s first mental trap was - Persistence.  

Immediately, having a good memory of the details of the Hill classic and being pretty sure Bob Proctor read the chapter on persistence every day for a month, I was intrigued to see persistence holding the #1 mental-trap position. 

The opening paragraph of Kukla's chapter on persistence is: 

'The first trap, persistence, is to continue to work on projects that have lost their value. The activity had meaning for us once - or we would never have begun. But the meaning has evaporated before we reach the end. Yet we go on, either because we don't notice the change or out of sheer inertia.' 

Another quote... 

'Incredibly, our culture teaches us to regard persistence as a virtue'.  

And another... 

'A useful distinction may be drawn between persistence and perseverance. We persevere when we steadfastly pursue our aims despite the obstacles that are encountered along the way. But we merely persist if we doggedly carry on in directions that are known to lead to a dead end.' 

And one more... 

'The moral imperative to finish everything we start is deeply ingrained. We find it difficult to abandon even the most transparently vapid enterprises in midstream. The mere act of beginning already binds us to continue to the end, whether or not the original reasons for the activity remain valid.' 


Now, here's how one of my dictionaries defines perseverance and persistence... 

Perseverance: a sticking to a purpose or an aim; never giving up what one has set out to do; persistence 

Persistence: the quality or state of being persistent or the act of persisting....where, in the same dictionary, persistent is defined as: persisting; having lasting qualities, especially in the face of dislike, disapproval, or difficulties 


As mentioned above, I was intrigued to see a table of contents citing Persistence as the first mental trap in an 'Overthinker's Guide to a Happier Life' 

To at least some degree, I grew up with Napoleon Hill's philosophies...including his view that Persistence is a necessary step toward riches.  

To put this into perspective, I've read the Napoleon Hill chapter dozens of times while I've read the Kukla chapter a handful of times. So, I believe I fully understand the gory details of Napoleon Hill's thinking and message while I'm much less comfortable with my understanding of Kukla's thinking and message. 

At first-reading of Kukla's differentiation between persistence and perseverance, I thought I was gaining some ground on his views. However, my dictionary removed that.  

My dictionary seems to consider the words persistence and perseverance as more or less interchangeable...note, perseverance is defined as persistence.  


So, what is persistence? 

Is it the 8th step to riches?  

Or, is it the first mental trap?   

An attempt at an answer: 

...going back to my dictionary's definition of persistent: persisting; having lasting qualities, especially in the face of dislike, disapproval, or difficulties. 

Specifically, consider the words 'in the face of dislike, disapproval, or difficulties'. 

This may be a good place to begin to sort out the similarities and differences between what these authors are trying to tell us.  

There's no question Napoleon Hill wanted his readers to be persistent in the face of disapproval from others. That's a very major part of the Hill philosophy. He wrote words like, 'never mind what they say' 

And, be persistent in the face of difficulty is another major Hill message....he wrote, 'If you give up before your goal has been reached, you are a "quitter". A quitter never wins - and a winner never quits. Lift that sentence out, write it on a piece of paper in letters an inch high, and place it where you will see it every night before you go to sleep, and every morning before you go to work.' 

What about 'in the face of dislike'? Napoleon Hill had a strong view on what type of work people should do...that is, he felt people should do work that is a labour of love. That doesn't mean Napoleon Hill expected all aspects of one's work would always be enjoyable/liked.  

Napoleon Hill felt people should think, set goals, create detailed plans, and take persistent action to complete those plans.  

Conversely, André Kukla begins his explanation of the mental trap, persistence, with the following example... 

'We start a Monopoly game with great enthusiasm and - inevitably - get bored before we reach the end. But instead of quitting, we toil on without pleasure "just to get it over with". There can be no clearer waste of time.' 

Kukla presents a number of similar examples. Taken on there own, I expect these examples do not do justice to the substance of Kukla's views. He goes on to say... 

'We may perpetually persist at relationships that have turned irretrievably sour, jobs that hold no present satisfaction for us and no hope for the future, old hobbies that no longer bring us pleasure, daily routines that only burden and restrict our lives.' 

Obviously, this last excerpt covers matters of much more significance than monopoly games. 

Napoleon Hill comments on all of these matters too, except the old hobbies. Hill cautioned against carrying on with things like irretrievably sour relationships and jobs that are not satisfying. He had strong views that most people continued with these sorts of things because of fear of criticism.  

So, there is common ground covered by both Kukla and Hill.  

However, there are fundamental differences and they are not explained away by writer’s style or the fact some common ground exists. 

As mentioned above, Kukla states, 'But we merely persist if we doggedly carry on in directions that are known to lead to a dead end.' 

On the other hand, Hill tells the story of how Henry Ford reacted to his engineers after '...the engineers agreed, to a man, that it was simply impossible to cast an eight-cylinder engine-block in one piece'.   

Here is part of the Henry Ford story, as told by Napoleon Hill: 

'...the engineers agreed, to a man, that it was simply impossible to cast an eight-cylinder engine-block in one piece.  

Ford said, "Produce it anyway." 

"But," they replied, "it's impossible!" 

"Go ahead," Ford commanded, "and stay on the job until you succeed, no matter how much time is required." 

The engineers went ahead. There was nothing else for them to do, if they were to remain on the Ford staff. Six months went by, nothing happened. Another six months passed, and still nothing happened. The engineers tried every conceivable plan to carry out the orders, but the thing seemed out of the question; "impossible!" 

At the end of the year Ford checked with his engineers, and again they informed him they had found no way to carry out his orders. 

"Go right ahead," said Ford. "I want it, and I'll have it." 

They went ahead, and then, as if by a stroke of magic, the secret was discovered. 

The Ford determination had won once more!'  

Consider Kukla's definitions...'We persevere when we steadfastly pursue our aims despite the obstacles that are encountered along the way. But we merely persist if we doggedly carry on in directions that are known to lead to a dead end.' 

Under Kukla’s definitions, Napoleon Hill's story about Henry Ford and his engineers contains one man persevering and many men merely persisting.  

Clearly, knowing the single-cast engine block could be done, Henry Ford persevered and that is something Kukla would not describe as falling into a mental trap.  

However, all of Henry Ford's engineers agreed to a man it was simply impossible to single-cast the engine block yet they doggedly carried on with work they ‘knew’ would lead to a dead end. So, the engineers merely persisted. And, Kukla would describe that as activity done in a mental trap.  

Some could argue that example is not a fair-game way of trying to sort out whether persistence is a necessary step towards riches or a destructive mental trap.  

After all…Henry Ford – why that’s just an exceptional example.   



Attitude: Creating Positive Attitude | Hero Worship | Influencing

Leading With Revenue

by Rick Baker
On Aug 4, 2008

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction of Ford Harding's book, 'Rain Making - Attract New Clients No Matter What Your Field': 

"Historically, training of professionals to win new clients has been haphazard. Law, accounting, engineering, medical, and architectural schools teach nothing about selling. This is also true of most business schools, surprisingly so, given that a sale is what defines the existence of a business." 

The Introduction goes on to explain how the author, while doing consulting work, experienced good times then bad and due to particularly bad times was called upon to 'sell'.   

About 'selling', the author reminisces: 

"Slowly, with a little mentoring and coaching and after my share of mistakes, I learned what to do. Knowing how to bring in business, and so build a practice, has helped ensure a good income and more control over my own destiny than many people have in this turbulent world. It has ensured a flow of interesting work with interesting people. It has allowed me to develop and maintain a team of professionals. It has earned me respect among my peers." 

(That excerpt contains a summary of many of the reasons why one might want to succeed in business.) 


The Introduction to the book contains the following major headings: 

Sales mean survival. 

Lack of time is no excuse. 

You must take responsibility for your own development. 

You have to get over the hump before it starts to be fun.  

You must adopt new measures of productivity and success.  

Marketing is an emotional roller coaster.  

You can gain a sense of control in business development.  

It is always better to be doing some marketing than none.  

You need to get face-to-face with a prospect to make a sale.  

Everyone can make a contribution.  

When you win, celebrate.  

Now is the time to start.   

(Many good points)


A couple of sentences in the Introduction also stood out and impressed me. 

 "Clients almost always return phone calls; prospects often don't." 

"Marketers market."  


Harding says, "Most professionals who succeed as marketers begin by doing." and "Such people are doers first and planners second."

Harding doesn't just talk the talk on this, he also walks the walk. This is confirmed by the structure of his book, which begins with three parts action/tactics and ends with one part planning/strategy.  

To explain his belief he states, near the end of the Introduction, "Part IV shows how to build a marketing strategy that is appropriate for you and your firm. It comes last because you must understand something of the tactics at your disposal before you select a strategy." 

(This caused me to think about plans and action…and about Leading With Revenue.)  


"Leading With Revenue" is a philosophy I coined in an effort to describe how successful entrepreneurs go about being successful.  

Leading With Revenue has particular impact during an entrepreneurial start-up.   


I feel Napoleon Hill's advice "Plan your work and work your plan" is the essential framework for sustained success.   


When asked to state the key ingredients of success, from start-up success to sustained success, I always include Napoleon Hill's "Plan your work and work your plan".  I also always include Leading With Revenue. 

Leading With Revenue is a philosophy containing about as much emotion as logical argument. Being that way, it is hard to learn it if you don't 'get it'.

I suppose, like the 'secret' Napoleon Hill embedded in and talked about throughout his 1937 classic ‘Think and Grow Rich’...if you are ready to receive it then you will 'get it' 

The 3 words - Leading With Revenue - can and should be taken literally. But, that's where the understanding of the philosophy begins, not where it ends.  

Regardless, Ford Harding's words offer help....perhaps a good way to present some of the thinking behind the philosophy. 

Ford Harding said, "....you must understand something of the tactics at your disposal before you select a strategy."   

This aligns with the 'how' of Leading With Revenue  


Here is a simplistic, theoretical and hypothetical example - an effort to explain Leading With Revenue: 

Assume you come up with an action-tactic for selling something to someone. Assume you do the selling action. Assume the someone buys your something. Assume you find a similar someone and repeat the process. Assume the second someone also buys your something. Assume this process is repeated at least one more time. After three successful actions proven by three sales, you have generated some revenue and you have reason to conclude you have come up with a successful something to sell and a successful way to sell it. Assume you decide to feed this result back to your plans/strategies and make adjustments to reduce all the other somethings you sell and reduce all the other somethings you do in sales while expanding the one combination of somethings that has proven to be successful in generating revenue. After that strategic change is made, assume your fourth sales effort succeeds, your fifth sales efforts succeeds, etc. Then, assume you feed that additional success back to your plan and assume, because you feel you are definitely on the track to success, you remove everything but the combination of somethings that has worked and you etch your plan in stone...at that point, your plan only contains instructions/guidance about the successful product/service and the action that leads to the successful sale of it and the generation of maximum (or at least optimum) revenue.  

Assume all that... 

The business-develoment stars have aligned. 

Not only have the stars aligned but they have aligned in about as efficient and simple a way as one could ever expect.  

That would be an ideal example of Leading With Revenue.  

·         Have at least one product or service

·         Have a plan, which contains at least one good sales tactic for action

·         Do that selling action

·         Succeed every time you sell (sales success means revenue)

·         Feed the results (successful product/service, sales tactic, and resulting generation of revenue) back to your plan

·         Revise your plan to remove things that don't work, leaving only the things that do work

·         With your revised and fully-precise (perfect) plan, do more selling

·         Grow your business rapidly and without any challenges whatsoever  


That's a picture of the ideal Leading With Revenue. 

That incorporates Ford Harding's points and Napoleon Hill's philosophy. The only problem is, being 'ideal' it is purely hypothetical and theoretical and it will never happen in the real world of business development.  But, the fact the example is 'impossible theory', does not reduce the need to understand Leading With Revenue 

The impossible example illustrates the iterative, back-and-forth relationship between plans and action, the foundation of Leading With Revenue.

While Ford Harding quite intentionally teaches tactics before planning, we must agree plans come first. We must agree with Napoleon Hill: one must Plan the Work before one Works the Plan. However, one must not expect to plan with perfection or completeness at the first try. (Actually, I would argue plans are never close to perfect, but that's another topic.) One must not underestimate the value of one good idea, backed by action. (Napoleon Hill repeated that message frequently.) And, one must not underestimate the danger of excessive planning, at the expense of action. 

The initial plan may be just an uncomplicated combination of an idea about a product and a process for selling it to a buyer. In fact, isn't that what's near or at the heart where invention meets entrepreneurship?

Or, the plan could be 50+ pages of verbiage, tables, graphs, and pictures. That's not an unusual thing at mature businesses and larger corporations.  


Regardless, whether it is applied to nascent plans or to mature plans, Leading With Revenue is the driver for initiating, expanding, and sustaining business.  

Have a plan... whether large or small, whether deeply personal or widespread corporate doctrine 

Take action in the field... whether in strict compliance with your marketing plan or due to leading-edge entrepreneurial spirit 

Monitor the results of your business-development actions....both the absolutely-essential failures and the to-be-celebrated successes   

Feedback those failure results and success results to your planning process 

Adjust your plans, to organize, guide, and optimize your action 

With optimized action, expand your sales…expand your revenue…grow and sustain your business  


While that is not how I have done it in the past, that is another way to begin to describe the iterative, success-oriented processes around plans-action-results-plans....which I call Leading With Revenue.  


Entrepreneur Thinking | Marketing | Sales


by Rick Baker
On Jul 9, 2008

Here's an excerpt from Jeffrey Gitomer's 'Little Black Book of Connections'.

When I read it, I thought of our Values - Courage and Confidence coupled with our discussion of the importance of Connections.


Per Jeffrey Gitomer...

"Courage is a self-inflicted quality that gains momentum every time you try it. Think about learning to swim. At first you're scared, then you jump in the pool, then you flail your arms, then eventually you begin to swim. And by the end of the day, or by then end of the week, you're diving off the diving board, head first into a pool of self-confidence. It's the same when you learn to ride a bike.

Transfer those lessons (learning to swim or ride a bike) into your world of making connections. And begin to build your own momentum by stroking and pedalling your way to the first one, and then the next, and then the next."


Jeffrey Gitomer presents things in a straightforward, common-sense way. 
Courage » Confidence » Connections

...with Courage defined as a self-inflicted quality.

I like that analogy or metaphor or whatever it is...

Self-inflicting Courage.

That is an excellent way to think about the way one builds the character attribute known as Courage. In fact, I think we could argue it is the only way to build the attribute, Courage.

I've called Courage 'the great enabler' because it enables other major character attributes such as Confidence...(particularly, Confidence). And, I've talked about the fact one can (rather easily) build self-Confidence...the mechanisms for building self-Confidence have been presented by many, with one of the best presented by Napoleon Hill 70 years ago.

Some have said, 'Confidence drives Courage', which is the opposite of the way I see it. I agree that's not flawed logic because it makes sense that Courage will tend to grow as self-Confidence grows. However, even if the logic works most/all the time the cause-effect thinking does not. 

Courage can exist in the absence of Confidence.

I'd argue Courage has its base in instinct while Confidence has its base in logical thought. Courage is a fight-or-flight phenomenon while self-Confidence is a thing of ongoing process.
Courage is of the heart, confidence is of the  brain.

Borrowing from Jeffrey Gitomer...we can self-inflict the quality of Courage.

We can also self-inflict the quality of self-Confidence, but, I don't think many of us would describe the process that way. If we do like the analogy/metaphor of self-inflicting self-Confidence then we must accept it is a methodical process of 'a thousand cuts'. 

Regardless, 'self-inflicting the quality of Courage'...what a great way to help us understand what it takes if one wants to maximize the success embedded in our Values: Courage, Confidence, Conviction, & Creativity. 


Marketing | Values: Personal Values

Maybe there is an 'I' in Teamwork?

by Rick Baker
On May 24, 2008

In the past, I've written strong critiques of cliché talk about Teamwork in Business 

I've really objected to sayings like, "There is no 'I' in Teamwork".

And, I've penned a new organization structure that would fit both well if business and team sports truly wished to be similar. 

So, I admit I'm not inclined to overstate the similarities shared by business and team sports. However, comparing business to team sports can help us firm up our thoughts about business goals, rules, action, and success...and, of course, about ourselves, other people, and how we can work together. After all, people are people. 

[I recognize professional sports teams are businesses, however, that’s a whole different topic.] 



Some points to consider when comparing business and team sports:  


  • In business, the puck or ball isn’t so easy to define or see and whether or not it can be seen as a tangible thing of possession it is rarely carried by a single person.


  • In business, most roles are heavily skewed to either offense or defense...in business, there are value-addition roles and there are quite different and typically quite separate value-protection roles. 


  • In business the defensive players have significant day-to-day influence over their team’s offensive players and this isn’t common in team sports. 


  • In business, we don’t get to hear tens of thousands unite to create thunderous noise and we don’t get to see standing ovations when we achieve our annual targets. On the other hand, we also don’t get to hear real-time Bronx Cheers or see octopi projectiles coming our way - in fact, stuff like that is frowned upon in business.


  • Most business consultants would be very troubled by managers or leaders who have a style like that of NFL Coach Bill Parcells. In fact, most people in business would say and do whatever they could to make Bill Parcells change and conform to much softer, kinder, and more-empathetic ways.




When we have business goals and we are committed to achieving them it is possible to separate our work into 2 broad categories: work designed to move us toward our goals and work designed to stop action that could reduce our ability to achieve our goals. We could call these offensive and defensive roles.

While there are radical differences between the work of team sports and the work of business a team sports metaphor, laced with offense and defence, can help us sort out our thoughts.  

In sports, there is offensive work and there is defensive work. In sports like North American football the lines are clearly drawn between offense and defence. There are offensive players, trainers, coaches, etc, and there are defensive counterparts. That doesn't mean the roles are permanent. In football one interception causes everyone on both teams to reverse roles instantaneously. For basketball, soccer, volleyball, etc, a change in possession of the ball causes most players to immediately shift their focus from offense to defence and vice-versa.

In many sports, possession of the ball is subject to task-completion/failure rules. In baseball one team gets to be on offense until it fails enough to have 3 outs. If we ignore the pitchers [or at least ignore some of them some of the time] baseball players are half-game defensive players who have the opportunity to take turns being the key point of offense a few times during the other half of each game. It seems to me that must also be happening in cricket but I'm going to need a lot more time to figure that out.

Again, in certain team sports the rules of the game require a sequence of repeated failed offensive actions to cause a change in possession of the ball…that applies to baseball. In other team sports failed offensive action can cause an immediate change of possession where the offense is required to leave the field of play…that applies to North American football. In other team sports, possession changes frequently and as a consequence all the players alternate frequently between offensive and defensive roles and action…that applies to soccer, basketball, and hockey. 

In sports like soccer and basketball, where most or all of the players split their work regularly between offensive and defensive action, the players often focus on one of those roles. Forwards are primarily offensive while defensemen are primarily defensive. However, both types of players alternate roles and take the action that best suits the situation. The situation is defined in terms of many things such as: where are we located on the field?, who holds possession?, and how much time is left in the game? We could describe these team sports players as 'majoring' in one type of work while 'minoring' in the other.  Often possession of the ball dictates their choice of action and always the rules of the game limit the extent of the action.

But, who is carrying the ball in business? 

Does any individual player ever actually carry the puck in corporate business? 

In business, the puck or ball isn’t so easy to define or see and whether or not it can be seen as a tangible thing of possession it is rarely carried by a single person.

Do we ever pull the Purchasing VP with less than a minute on the clock so we have one more person in the Sales Department?



In sports, players cannot gain unfair advantage by going offside and stepping out of bounds carries consequences. 

While there are many official rules, the sports coaches can set bounds on action tighter than the rules of the game. Αs an example: (while I haven't really spent much time on hockey since the Leafs completed their first couple of decades of playoff lackadaisy), maybe goalies are not allowed to cross the centre line? That could be the rule for hockey. On the other hand, the coach could set a team or individual rule that limits the goalie's forward progress to the blue line. The coach may set similar restrictions on defensive players…restricting some players to be defensive defensemen while allowing others to be offensive defensemen. Or, some forwards could be told to back check while others could be set up ice to cherry pick. 

Regardless, in many team sports the players alter their actions swiftly back-and-forth between offense and defense. There are game rules. There are also team/coach rules. In most sports there are considerable rules governing what defensive and offensive players are allowed to do: penalties for offsides stands out as a general rule that applies to many team sports.

[Attention to the rules is very important in sports while in business, particularly smaller and mid-sized business, there often is no detailed rule book.]

In business, most roles are heavily skewed to either offense or defense…in business, there are value-addition roles and there are quite different and typically quite separate value-protection roles. 

There are business-development roles and there are business-risk-management and business-control roles.

This is a key area of difference.  

Ideally, the value adders in business will be considerate of the risks and temper their action when required. Ideally, the risk managers and controllers in business will be considerate of the need to grow through expanded commerce and ease their rules and actions when required.



In business the defensive players have significant day-to-day influence over their team’s offensive players and this isn’t common in team sports.

That is another key difference between team sports and business. As examples: CFOs, legal counsel, and credit managers can dictate policy that limits the day-to-day actions of purchasing, marketing, and sales people.

This control isn't limited to pre-game, pre-set rules...it also happens in an ongoing way during the day-by-day actions of business.

If business and team sports were similar at the action level then we might regularly see many defensive players repeatedly screaming “Be Careful” or “You can’t do that as their offensive players pressed toward the other team's goal. And, if team sports were like business then maybe Bobby Orr would have only scored short-handed goals when he got really lucky flipping the puck in from centre ice? 

This difference identifies a key need in business that seems to go without saying in team sports: in business we need to make efforts to optimize the balance between offense and defense...not just in theory and in practice but also in action throughout the game.



In sports, the scrutiny on action is intense, sometimes off the Richter Scale. Consider penalty kicks, breakaways, and bases-loaded at bats. In these game situations at least 2 people are under intense scrutiny: one offensive person and one defensive person.

Scrutiny of action is extreme in sports. Feedback is immediately-rewarding in sports. Fans scream, sound systems wail, the jumbo screen flashes, and coaches ride emotional roller coasters. [And if you are in Tampa Bay then you get to see a pirate ship fire its cannons.] 

In sports the rewards of the immediate, intense feedback can be positive or negative. In fact, most often it is both positive and negative at the same time. Your team and your fans cheer your success while at least some fans who root for the other team yell insults and deride you and your performance even if it clearly was a terrific piece of action and a scored goal.

Those who watch you perform in sports are biased…and many of them are not timid at all about showing it, wearing it, screaming it, or, from time to time, rioting during or after the game to prove it.  We don’t see that often in business.  In business, feedback about our actions is much more subtle. As business individuals, our action isn’t monitored by a zoomed-in camera lens.  

In business, we don’t get to hear tens of thousands unite to create thunderous noise and we don’t get to see standing ovations when we achieve our annual targets. On the other hand, we also don’t get to hear real-time Bronx Cheers or see octopi projectiles coming our way…in fact, stuff like that is frowned upon in business. 

We see and hear even less immediate feedback in the day-to-day commercial trenches while we are doing the buying and selling action of business. Business people can operate with some privacy, whereas, sometimes, in some sports stadia, your own fans give you that Bronx Cheer.

In sports, sometimes your coach hugs you while tears stream from all eyes. At other times your coach screams vulgarities at you and you can watch replays of the whole thing over and over on the jumbo screen and later you can watch it on the Sports Channel when you get home from the game.  

Missing a penalty shot or letting an overtime goal sneak by you – that’s newsworthy.

Failing to make a sale or paying too much for some raw materials – that’s not newsworthy. 

Scrutiny of performance and feedback on performance – in sports versus in business – are areas where huge differences exist. In sports winning is revered. Winning is revered to the point where critics and fans and coworkers applaud the end result and they also applaud the means to that end result whether the coach is Bill Parcells [known to be a tough autocrat] or Tony Dungy [known to be a real people person].

In business, we often hear coaching-and-counselling advice about teamwork. We hear, “There is no ‘I’ in teamwork”. I suppose team-sports players may hear the same counsel? That counsel seems to be an attempt to state that something about individuals must be of lesser something than something about the team. That interpretation should come across as nebulous. That’s because comments like “There is no ‘I’ in teamwork” are nebulous. Perhaps, the common interpretation isn’t nebulous. Perhaps, the comment means each individual should be prepared to sacrifice personal needs whenever they conflict with team goals. If that’s the case then there are better ways to express that sort of thinking. The reality is: every team consists of individual people, each of whom is an ‘I’. So, rather than talk in terms of letters of the alphabet we should be more specific. For example, we could say the key to team success is optimizing: optimizing the balance between the team’s goals and each individual’s goals and optimizing the balance between each individual’s goals and the goals of each other individual. That would at least allow us to focus on each person’s needs/goals and the needs/goals of the team. We could seek an understanding of whether or not the various goals are similar and aligned. We could talk about individual compromise in objective ways. We could work out acceptable individual adjustments.   



In business, we are much more conflicted about management style and often we hear advice that the likelihood of winning increases under certain leadership and management styles.

Most business consultants would be very troubled by managers or leaders who have a style like that of NFL Coach Bill Parcells. In fact, most people in business would say and do whatever they could to make Bill Parcells change and conform to much softer, kinder, and more-empathetic ways.

[In recognition of another way of looking at it - Bill Parcells did get to present some of his sports-to-business leadership thoughts in Harvard Business Review. The message he presented in HBR made sense. It is interesting to consider his HBR words while watching him in action at the sidelines.] 

Whether Bill Parcells or Tony Dungy, for team sports differences in leadership style, coaching style, and management style are embraced. Style differences are embraced by owners, fans, players, and media critics. Style differences are embraced while a potential to win is in the mind of the sports critic. When the potential to win is no longer in the mind of the sports critic the sports critic often promotes leadership change specifically to bring about a change in leadership style. If the failed sports leader was viewed as ‘too nice’ then the critic would promote a change to tougher leadership – more discipline, more control, and a firmer hand. If the failed leader was viewed as ‘too autocratic’ then the critic would promote a change to a more easy-going leader. Interestingly enough, these sorts of radical changes in style often do bring about near-term success in team sports.  

Sports fans love this stuff...they call in to talk shows, watch the highlights and the pundits, etc.

But, what about in business?  

In business, how often do we hear, “Let’s bring in an autocratic leader to inject a good dose of discipline into this organization”? 



People invented sports.

People invented business.

Both business and sports are fundamental to our human condition.

While business and team sports are both constructs that combine human cooperation and human competition, they are so different it is dangerous to assume too much similarity.

It is particularly dangerous to think the concept of teamwork in business is interchangeable with the concept of teamwork in sports. Business might be much easier to perform if it was performed in a manner similar to the relatively simple way sports teams perform.

490 Dutton Drive - Suite C6 - Waterloo ON N2L 6H7 - phone 519-886-6522 - fax 519-886-8795
Copyright © 2012. W.F.C (Rick) Baker. All Rights Reserved.