Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I played a lot of table tennis (not a lot of options). And I had one friend who always whooped us.
And I mean it when I say whooped — for over half a decade, I can count the number of times he lost on my hands. Hell, I think my lifetime record versus him was something like 4-250.
What was infuriating about him was it wasn’t like he was obviously better than us – he wasn’t smashing the ball around, making us look like idiots. He just slowly and methodically ground us into dust.
It was years later that his simple strategy was revealed: limit unforced errors.
His realization was simple: people do a great job beating themselves up — he just had to be there to clean it up.
So his entire gameplan was to wait for either 1) us to trip up or 2) when a gaping opportunity presented itself, to seize the opportunity. He just goaded us into doing something stupid, or smacked us when he had a clear shot of winning the point.
This does NOT mean he just played some boring defensive style, as it would have given his opponents an opportunity to win.
I believe that entrepreneurship is the same. I’ve seen far too many people overthink things or push too hard for something they want, when they should have been more patient and diligent about when they react.
Mind you, the act of reducing unforced errors is not unique to entrepreneurship — it applies to anything where game theory comes into play. Hell — we all likely have a friend who tells us that they were on a date that was going well… until they opened their mouth to say something idiotic, and it blew up in their face.
For those who follow sports, Superbowl XLIX is the perfect example. With less than 30 seconds to go, Seattle had the ball at the 1-yard line. They had a > 95% chance of scoring and winning the game. All they had to do was give the ball to their running back (whose nickname was literally “Beast Mode”) and let him score. New England would then have had an insanely short amount of time to score and win. And it’s not like Seattle had a garbage defense – the nickname of the defense was “Legion of Boom”!
But Seattle’s coach overthought the process, and went for a pass… which got intercepted, and New England ended up winning.
If you follow the NFL, you know that New England has been the most dominant team in the past 20 years, and a big reason has been that their coach has ensured his own player limit unforced errors.
Make sure you’re minimizing unforced errors, and you’ll be easily ahead of the pack.
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