Stepping Up to the Plate: What Baseball Has Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Ever since my youth, baseball has been a huge part of my life. Whether watching it on TV, or getting out on the field with my glove in hand, I’ve never been too far from the game. When I got into the working world, I didn’t realize it at the time, but a lifetime of playing and loving baseball had prepared me for building my own business in many ways. These are some of the incredibly valuable lessons I learned early on in baseball that have served me well since I became an entrepreneur. 

Keep taking your swings

One of my favorite things about baseball is the way it mirrors everyday life. It’s no wonder that so many Americans are enchanted by this game when the playing experience is so relatable. There might be no better representation of the entrepreneurial experience, boiled down into just a few minutes, than a hitter stepping up to bat.

You’re standing alone, facing an almost irrationally dangerous challenge. You’ve got your supporters behind you, sure, but you’re the one with your reputation on the line. You swing your hardest, but more often than not you don’t get the results you look for, and there’s nothing left to do but try and do better next time.

It’s great lesson in entrepreneurship that even the most successful among us will have a record filled with failures.

Even the greatest hitter of all time, Ted Williams, walked back to the dugout disappointed six out of 10 times. In business, it’s not about hitting a home run every time you try, because that’s impossible. It’s about making those times you connect truly count. 

Effort will define you

Making a complete effort is often what sets the winners apart from the losers on the baseball field. You might be like the Houston Astros’ Jose Altuve, a 5’6” infielder who garnered MVP honors and a World Series ring in 2017: nothing too impressive at first glance, but willing to make the kind of effort that brings championship results. 

A lot of us like to think that we can spot a winner from a mile away, but the truth is that in both business and baseball you can defy expectations by working harder than everyone else. That’s the difference effort makes. It could be making that extra phone call, hustling to make connections, or staying up all night to get your latest initiative market-ready. If you put in the hours, more often than not, you’ll get your chance to truly shine. 

Adapt with the times 

For each of these perennial endeavors, baseball and business, if you don’t adapt to external changes, you’re finished. While America’s pastime may be a hallmark of tradition, today’s game looks much different than it did several decades ago, and with stronger and faster players making ever more impressive plays, game plans have needed to change. We’ve seen this supposedly staid game change in a variety of ways over the decades, and when the need for change becomes apparent, even old baseball can adjust to the times.

I don’t have to tell you that evolving business technology leaves slow adapters behind faster than ever. When I got started in business, having a computer was enough to put you in the technological elite. Today, most of us don’t leave the house without at least one computer in our pocket, with one on our wrist or in our bag, as well. Tech goes from a curiosity to a necessity faster than ever, and if you don’t evolve, you’ll be extinct before long.

Adaptation doesn’t only refer to tech. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of staying aware of trends in your industry, even if you don’t plan on implementing them. Staying on top of developments that your peers (and rivals) may be getting into is a necessary part of keeping a leg up on the competition. You don’t want to get picked off at the plate by a more dynamic upstart, after all. 

Build where others ignore 

As detailed in the book “Moneyball,” Oakland A’s manager, Billy Beane, changed the way ball players are evaluated, giving his low-budget team a serious edge. Entrepreneurship works the same way, in that you must find gaps in the market and fill them thoughtfully in order to get the best results. To use a personal example, I saw that there was a desperate need to serve often-ignored populations in the healthcare field, and from there found a great deal of success partially because of the hesitation of others.

In the A’s case, rival GMs were overlooking players because of outdated evaluation techniques, which were more concerned with superficial qualities like appearance than their potential to help win games. As an entrepreneur, you need to similarly occupy a space in the market that the competition overlooks, or better yet, can’t see at all. They may catch up eventually, like the MLB competition did to those A’s teams, but by that time, your efforts should have set you apart from the pack.

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It’s all about results

Just as a baseball team’s fate is measured by the numbers on the scoreboard, your business will ultimately be judged solely on one factor: results. That means making customers and investors happy with a high level of service and positive financial outcomes to match. It’s pretty simple, really, and everything else is just window dressing. Your team can have the shiniest facilities and the biggest names in your lineup, but if you don’t get the wins, it’s all for nothing.

For such a glamorous sphere, baseball is still a place where the failure to get results will be your undoing. The average MLB manager lasts just 3.7 seasons, while players fare slightly better at about 5.6 years per career. Imagine the average insurance adjuster being forced to pick a new line of work after that time! Entrepreneurs face a similarly high stakes, with the typical small business lasting four years on average. This kind of job insecurity will scare off most of the rank-and-file. For both entrepreneurs and baseball pros, it’s a way of life. 

As an entrepreneur (or a baseball fan), you’ve got to love a space where results win out over all else. After decades enamored of both business and hardball, I feel fortunate to be able to draw on lessons from the sport I love in my everyday life. It’s not for everyone, but that’s why they call it the major leagues.

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