26 April 2010

The key is not the “will to win” - everybody has that.  It is the will to prepare to win that is important.

-Bobby Knight

I was watching professional pool the other day on ESPN, and it struck me how many similarities there are between pool and life.

The Best Players Make It Look Easy, but it’s not

The first time I watched professional pool I was probably 10 years old, and it shocked me how every single shot the pro’s would take was so perfectly lined up.  “That seems easy” was my first reaction.  I thought the best pool players in the world would be hitting some super crazy off-the-wall shot that I had never seen before.  Hell, even though I sucked at pool, hitting in a perfectly lined shot was well within my abilities.

After a few minutes, I realized that at the professional level, the goal wasn’t just to hit the ball in the hole, it was to hit the ball in the hole and set up the cue ball to be able to easily hit the next shot as well, and that was pretty damn difficult.

In the real world, all we see are people taking their shots.  It’s human nature to look at a someone hitting in an easy shot and discount the accomplishment.  “It’s easy for that guy to get the job, he went to Harvard.” What we don’t see is the amount of effort that went into setting up the shot, and how difficult it was.  You don’t see that the guy started out in non-honors classes in high school and had to bust his ass twice as hard as everyone else to get into a good school.

Plan 5 shots ahead, shoot one ball at a time

Great pool players have a plan, they know what their next 5 or 6 shots are going to be.   In life, things are much easier if you have a plan.   This should be very obvious, and I’ll write a more extensive blog post about it another time.

Besides for just having an end goal and plan, professional pool payers take their end goal (winning the game), and break it down into the small simple shots that they need to win.  Life is the same way.  Big wins are the result of many smaller wins in proper succession.  The big sale you close is a result of establishing good rapport with the prospect, securing someone on the inside to champion your product, overcoming objections, and having awesome follow up.  Succeeding in each of these is straightforward (although can be quite difficult), and if you succeed in all of them you win the game.

Be awesome at the basic shots, and success follows

If players plan ahead, and hit their basic shots perfectly, there is no need for the crazy off-the-wall shots that as a kid I expected in professional pool.  So too in life, if you are awesome at doing the basic things and plan ahead, it should be fairly straightforward for you to achieve any goal without resorting to some crazy off-the-wall scheme.  (Important distinction: straightforward does not mean easy.)

You’ll still have tough shots, so be ready to sink them (although having tough shots means you screwed up)

If you’re in a situation where the only chance of success is some crazy hail-mary strategy, it means that you screwed up somewhere along the path by either not planning sufficiently, or not properly executing the straightforward steps in your plan.  Take ownership of that, and there are no exceptions.

However, don’t let it bother you.   Having the mindset that it’s your responsibility to plan and execute your life is very healthy, but stressing when things don’t work out is a recipe for going insane.  Life is complicated, and there is no way that you’re going to be able to perfectly plan and perfectly execute everything.  You’re going to fail at many things in life.  You’re going to miss many basic shots, and you’re going to be put into many situations where you’ve got a really difficult shot ahead of you.  In life, when faced with this situation, many people just give up.  In pool it’s not as easy to fail quietly, you’ve got to take a shot no matter how impossible it seems.  Not sure which one is better.

Lastly, if you’ve become a master at the basic skills, in pool and in life, you can hit a surprising amount of tough shots.  Most people think that hitting difficult shots is only for “geniuses who were born to play pool and can sink shots no mortal man can sink,” but it’s generally just a result of hard work and being very good at the basics.  Life is the same, seemingly impossible success is generally just a result of a ton of hard work going on behind the scenes.