As I stared at a dugout of dispirited 14 year old boys Saturday afternoon in our tournament championship game, I found myself talking to my fellow coach Mitch about a book I’d read a few years ago (turns out 14) called Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, written by HBS professor Rosabeth Moss Kantor. While that original blog post is pretty specific to something that was going on at that point in time in my prior company, the thinking in the book about momentum and the role it plays in our psychology, about sports, about business, and about life in general, is timeless.
Watching this team of teens go through ups and downs within an hour was incredibly stark and clear. In the first inning, we made three errors (just jitters from being in the championship…the Bulldogs are better than that!). Those opened the door for our opponent to post a few runs and take a quick lead. It was as if the wind had been taken out of our sails, as if all 11 kids just took a punch to the gut. They were shocked and pretty listless in the dugout, and nothing the coaches could do or say shook them out of it. They just *knew* they were going to lose, so why try? Their confidence was gone. It wasn’t until we staged our own big rally, later in the game, where all of a sudden, one, then two, then three base hits and the kids were going bananas, up at the fence of the dugout and screaming, cheering each other on and feeling all of a sudden like we could win the game.
The swing in momentum took about 5 minutes in each direction. And all that was involved was a couple quick negative/positive indicators/actions.
The bottom line is that we still lost the game 10-5. But the energy that came from a couple positive developments that stopped a downward spiral and started an upward one was palpable and instructive. As one of my other fellow coaches Jay said to the boys after the game, “Boys, the lesson from today is that Everything Matters. We lost 10-5, but when we were only down by 5 runs with the bases loaded, how much did we regret those couple of errors in the first inning? Without those, we would have been down by 2 runs with victory in reach.”
It’s the same in startups.
When you run a startup, you regularly take three punches to the gut in a row — a client cancels on you, you have a web site outage, an employee quits — and all of a sudden, you view the world through a dark lens of, as my long-time friend and Board member Scott Weiss used to say, WFIO, short for We’re F#%ked, It’s Over (pronounced whiff-ee-oh).
And then, the opposite happens, and it’s like the heavens part and the angels start singing a hallelujah chorus. You win a big new deal. You get unexpected positive press or a key blogger or tweet creates massive buzz for you. Your CFO pings you with the news that revenue is surprisingly high this month. WFIO is suddenly replaced with what I’ll call WGTWIA — We’re Going to Win It All (let’s pronounce it wig-twee-uh).
And what’s the difference? Probably nothing big. Probably a couple small things that just happened to break in the right or wrong direction at the right time. That call or email you decided not to return for a couple days until it was too late. That presentation you could have spent an extra 45 minutes perfecting instead of half-assing. That extra run through a new module of code you wrote to make sure it’s fully debugged. Just like a few silly errors in 14-year old baseball because you had the jitters early in a big game.
Everything Matters. In sports, in business, in life. Anything you think is a “throw away” can turn out in retrospect to have made the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure.