By Atiba Founder & CEO, JJ Rosen; This article originally appeared in The Tennessean
Walking onto the court, ready for battle, I could feel my competitive juices starting to flow. It had been 11 months of grueling work to get to this point. Focused, confident, and a bit angry, I was dialed in, determined to win at all costs.
My opponent on the other side of the net looked just as serious.
Standing 6-foot-2, with a pile of well-worn racquets, three large water bottles and a Nike headband, he looked mean. As we warmed up, I noticed his serve was like a rocket and he had a quick first step. This was shaping up to be the match of the century.
It would all come down to this — just me, my rival, our small plastic paddles and a whiffle-ball. We were ready to rumble — serve it up, our pickleball match was on.
Often described as a sport that requires no athletic ability, no endurance, and minimal coordination, my friend Daniel and I decided to take up pickleball a year ago as an outdoor socially distanced way to get some exercise during the pandemic.
In our early 50s, with no youthful strength or speed to speak of, we figured this strange sport would be an easy way to stay in shape and have some fun.
A combination of tennis and ping-pong, pickleball is played on a miniature tennis court (not much running is required) with a tiny 3-foot net. The object of the game is to hit the ball back and forth until one player makes a mistake hitting the ball out of bounds or into the net (or in our case just swings and misses the ball altogether).
By all comparisons, it’s an easy sport that anyone can do with little or no practice — just what two middle-aged dads needed to get us through these past 12 months of quarantine stress and boredom.
When we first picked up pickleball it was all fun and games. We were just in it for the camaraderie and fun.
But, like most activities that involve competition, the more we have played, the more competitive we have become. We both have found ourselves reading blogs and watching YouTube videos trying to improve our games. Despite our pickleball matches being meaningless, over time we have each become more focused on winning.
But winning in pickleball requires a different strategy than winning in other sports. Hitting the ball harder or running faster won’t help you. The only way to win a point is to simply avoid making a mistake.
In business we generally define winning as growing and innovating faster than our competitors do. Especially these days, when technology is at the core of most businesses, we see the Amazons and Teslas of the world do well by playing good, aggressive offense.
Just like in pickleball, there is another way to win in business that is not as glorious but can be just as effective. Some businesses can win by simply making fewer mistakes than their competitors. Sometimes, steady, methodical, low risk and sometimes downright boring can be a path to victory.
So, how do you win by simply avoiding mistakes? I now call it the “pickleball strategy.”
First and foremost, you must be patient. This is easier said than done because most entrepreneurs are eager risk-takers by nature. But the more patient you are, the better you will be at avoiding the mistakes that many others make in their quest for glory.
Second, winning in business by avoiding mistakes is to think like a risk manager, always putting the odds in your favor to ultimately win. Things like keeping debt low, staying focused on what you do best, keeping your prices low to keep your customers happy — not very exciting, but often very effective.
And finally, just like winning in pickleball, winning in business takes a dose of humility. You may never hear the crowd roar or make the front page of the business section when you play not to lose, but if you win, who cares?
Warren Buffett says, “Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget rule No. 1.” I bet he would be a tough pickleball player to beat.