Curve Balls


Curve Ball
I always hated curve balls. I think this was primarily because I didn’t want to break out of the comfort zone of my particular habits, stance and swing, which worked wonders on fast balls, sliders, split fingers, and the rest.

You’re forced to focus and adapt quickly to respond to the precise movements of the ball as it hisses towards you.  There is this dizzy sensation the moment you realize the ball is moving in an unexpected and deceptive direction; it’s almost hypnotizing.

It was because of my dislike for the curve ball that I stopped developing my skill as a baseball player.  I struggled through the end of my sixth year playing and then quit.  Now I can be a little more understanding of my younger self. I was 13 and short for my age, forced to advance to the 16+ league, so I definitely had the odds stacked against me.

Even so, that unfortunate lesson stuck with me. I couldn’t be proud of shrinking back from a daunting challenge.

No matter how many times you’ve seen them, curve balls look a little unique every time.  An unexpected budget cut, a project for which you lack essential skills, an aggressive up-and-coming competitor, or a seemingly unattainable goal imposed by senior management.  With each curve ball, there’s the terrible feeling of the unfamiliar, the unknown.

But after a while you gain a paradoxical confidence that is able to exist alongside the feeling of unpreparedness and anxiety.  Thanks to the great example of many leaders, friends and family in my life, I’ve gradually changed my perspective.  I can now welcome curve balls because they break my mental habits of maintaining the status quo, contradict my inflated sense of expertise, and challenge me to take risks. 

When you approach the plate eager for a new challenge, I think there comes a really healthy sense of pride.  This attitude is good for career development, but really, it’s also practice for life, for virtue and for conquering the deeper personal challenges we all face, both externally and internally.  That’s something to take pride in.

So next time you see an over-eager, slightly hubris-driven achiever leaping at a chance to be thrown in the middle of a project for which they are obviously under-qualified, don’t simply write him or her off as mere opportunists looking to advance their career.  Chances are, they’d love it if you jumped in with them.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Business Leadership: The Art of Thinking Big & Acting Small


Many people are technically proficient in performing a skill.  There are just as many who easily grasp that skill’s strategic value and tactical purpose.

But you rarely meet both traits in the same person. 

When you do, it’s usually someone doing a curiously excellent job in their work area.  Learn to imitate the intellectual veracity and discipline for execution you observed.  From personal experience, it is easy to imitate one trait; painful to imitate both, but good for you.

It is good for you because it forces you to make better decisions.  Strategists err by not knowing how to actually get the job done; technicians err by not understanding the broader context and long-term implications of their work, so they don’t learn how to do excellently.

Business leaders, responsible for strategic direction, also need to be able to execute, perhaps as well as anyone beneath them.  It’s true that no one can do everything, but everyone can maintain a practice of constantly specializing in at least one skill area.

Imitating good examples keeps you sharp, but it also keeps you humble.  Nothing reminds me how much room for growth I have like trying to be well-rounded.  Leaders get lazy and sometimes become full of themselves when they have others below them to do their bidding.  Getting your hands dirty and honing a technical skill reminds you how much you depend on others to get the job done.

Mastering the art of balancing both conceptual and technical excellence doesn’t make you a good leader, but, stay honest, and it is fairly likely you’ll become one.  Think big, act small, and it’s difficult to avoid becoming an effective business leader.