November 09, 2021

Taking A Step Back

As many of you know, I play a lot of pickleball. It's a year-round outdoor sport in Arizona, it is far more competitive than you'd imagine, and it is heart healthy. A two-mile walk would have worn me down me five years ago. Today I can play for five hours and tally up 20,000 steps and feel pleased when I'm done. Tired, but pleased.

There are different levels in Pickleball ... beginners are typically 2.0 players, then you progress through the 2.5 level, move on to 3.0 where you can start to play in tournaments, then 3.5 and 4.0 which are low/high mid-levels, then you get to 4.5 where you are highly proficient and 5.0 where you are expert. Pro players reach 6.5 or 7.0 levels.

At each level, you learn something different. You learn the rules and how to play at 2.5. At 3.0 you learn the importance of drop shots. At 3.5 you learn the importance of your soft game, you start to learn spins and deception. At 4.0 the "transition zone" has to be mastered, along with implementing strategy. Sophisticated strategies and expert play dominate 4.5 and 5.0 levels.

When you master a level, you are beating your competition, handily. You test, you get moved up, and then you are at the bottom of the next level. Instead of winning games 11-6 you are losing games 5-11. You go from hero to zero. You invest a year learning the skills at the next level, you eventually win games 11-6, you test, you move up a level, and you start over losing games 5-11 again.

Two players I adore are going through a transition as they attempt to move up a level or start in a new level. They have to unlearn habits that worked in the old level. As the habits are unlearned, the players take a step backwards. They become less competitive than they were previously. I've been there. Every pickleball player has been there.

What happens in business when you try to move up a level?

Maybe you have a $30,000,000 business and you want to become a $50,000,000 business. That's like moving up from 3.0 to 3.5 in pickleball. The skills that got you to $30,000,000 will not be enough to get you to $50,000,000. Worse, many of the good habits (the "best practices") at becoming a $30,000,000 brand have to be unlearned ... truly ... if you want to become a $50,000,000 brand.

And the minute you attempt to make this transition, the wheels come off the bus. You try things and they don't work. You waste money. You doubt yourself. Sales even decline. Management wants to fire you.

But you have to go through the transition.

The best way to start the transition is to focus on new customers. You'll need them if you are going from $30,000,000 to $50,000,000, you won't get the $$$ out of your existing customers no matter what your vendor partners tell you (they, by the way, get $$$ by telling you to focus on existing customers, that's why they tell you that). So start with what you know. And experiment along the way, test new ideas and concepts. You have to. You'll fail repeatedly. But along the way you'll pick up the skills necessary to become better.

You might have to take a step back.

But you'll ultimately move forward.

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