Sometimes, in business and in life, you’re slightly ‘off your game’. You’re not quite there, you can’t put it together, the muscle and brain memory is not firing right for you. It’s a tough rut to get out of, without doing a reboot or calling it quits and sleeping on it.

In sport it’s easier to see when you’re slightly off your game, because it’s pretty binary. It’s either in or out, a hit or a miss. You either win the point or you lose it, win the match or lose it, pretty much.

I was reminded of this the other day when I was playing table tennis. I used to play competitively for many years and am currently getting back into it more regularly after a decade and a half on the side lines. The other day was one of those days when I was slightly off my game, and at a certain level of ability the margins are so small. The ball was clipping the edge of my bat a lot, rather than hitting the sweet spot, because my timing was slightly off and I couldn’t get either my conscious or subconscious mind co-ordinate the hundred or so muscles in quite the right way.

The ball was also missing the table by small margins, and hitting the top of the net a lot. With table tennis, the ball is maybe a quarter of the height of the net, so you get a lot of shots hitting the net cord, compared with tennis or badminton. When you’re sightly off your game, you hit the top of the net a lot, and the ball either comes back on your side, or dribbles over the other side, or else sits up for the other player to crush past you. Either way, it’s really hard for both players to establish any kind of rhythm.

A couple per cent degradation in your execution and the result is maybe 20% worse, easily the difference between winning comfortably and losing comfortably. Frustrating.

I know you either win a deal or lose it, and a lead either becomes an opportunity or it doesn’t, but business, projects and sales cycles feel a lot less binary to me. If you’re slightly off your game, you don’t necessarily get direct feedback from a prospect or customer. You don’t necessarily know that a specific campaign hasn’t converted a specific individual, or that your answer to a sales objection has been answered satisfactorily.

All you can do then is go back to the data and study the statistics over a larger number of similar circumstances rather than an isolated, specific interaction. And work hard all the time to reduce the occasions when you’re slightly off your game.

Advertisements