I think sports are a great comparison to business, all the way from the work ethic and practice required to get good at each craft, to the sense of competition that is always present. One of the things I think was thinking about the other day was comparing business ideas (and likely failures involved) to at-bats in baseball. To be clear, every time a batter faces a pitcher, that is considered an at-bat.
Relatively speaking, batters have very low yields on hits. A .300 batting average is considered very good, but it just means a hit is being created 3 times out of 10 that a batter faces a pitcher! I find this is unique to baseball. For example, what if a basketball player only made 3 out of 10 baskets? They wouldn’t be considered very good. Most of us could probably be 30% basketball shooters. Even in soccer, which is a low scoring sport, if a striker were to take 10 on-target shots on goal, they may score more than 3 times.
If we take it further and ask ourselves how many home runs result from at-bats, that average drops a whole bunch. If we assume a starting player takes 600 at-bats in a season, having 30 home runs is considered pretty good, which would only mean a 0.05 chance of a home run at any given at-bat. If you want a high yield in sports, you probably shouldn’t be a baseball player. If you didn’t know that batting .300 was good, or even consider that batting .200 is “normal”, how many people would really look forward to stepping up to the plate only to get rejected 70-80% of the time? It is no secret that an entrepreneur experiences a very low success rate – even lower than baseball.
For this reason, I think knowing that there is an inherently low success rate in business drives away the wantrepreneurs from the entrepreneurs, but it also sets apart those that eventually succeed.
The successful entrepreneur has had dozens of empty at-bats, yet they keep stepping up to the plate. Over and over. They keep stepping up because they know taking at-bats is the only way to give themselves the chance to get a single, double, triple, or even a home run. Occasionally, they are able to draw a walk, or advance to first without any impact on their average (perhaps a bad business decision didn’t materially hurt the business). But most of the time, entrepreneurs add O’s to their stat line. They might have a business great idea that comes off the bat hot down the third base line, only to get thrown out at first. Sometimes they might really think they created the next Facebook, only to have that idea caught at the warning track. Some ideas are so bad they end up being bounced back to the pitcher who throws them out at first without even trying. However, the successful entrepreneur still goes up for another at-bat. They forget what happened at the last at-bat and step up. Again and again.
Finally, after 10, 20, 50, 100 at-bats, the entrepreneur finally makes contact, and rips the ball down the first base line for a single. Sometimes they hit it in the outfield gap for a double. Sometimes, if they are really good and scrappy (“fast”), they can make it to third on a good hit. And rarely, VERY rarely, the entrepreneur will finally get the pitch they have been waiting for; their timing is just right, and they crush the ball over the fence for a home run.
Fortunately in entrepreneurship, you really only have to hit a home run once (where you may have to hit more than one in a baseball game to win!). You only have to be right once. A home run can create a financial windfall that instantly creates financial independence. But it would have never been possible if you didn’t take empty at-bat after empty at-bat, with the occasionally base hit sprinkled in. The moral of the story is that you HAVE to take at-bats. Yes, probability shows you will probably strike out, ground out, or fly out, but you can only put yourself in position to get a hit by continuing to step up to the plate.
It goes without saying that practice and study can help you increase your average (in baseball AND in business). However, there are very few ways of facing a real pitcher and real pitches other than being in a real game situation. Think of it this way, does practicing playing the stock market with Monopoly teach you the same lessons as playing the stock market with the dollars you have had to personally work for? You can hit all you want in batting practice, but since it doesn’t count towards your actual batting average, you really aren’t getting much further than you were. For the best result, combine a strong work ethic, practice, and studiousness, with “in the field” experience to maximize your chance at getting hits.