How to Hit a Curveball

By Scott R. Singer  |  Posted 2010-06-28 Print this article Print

In today’s world, a critical business skill is the ability to confront and overcome unexpected obstacles.

How to Hit a Curveball

When I started to study the world’s best curveball hitters in every walk of life, I thought I’d discover secrets I could adopt and pass along: specific actions that enable these individuals to repeatedly confront and overcome the unexpected in business and life. What I discovered, however, was that it’s not specific actions that account for their success; it’s an approach that requires following a process.

The process starts by stepping up to the plate. While it’s human nature to feel ashamed or embarrassed by being caught flat-footed and to want to conceal what’s happening, procrastination and avoidance do nothing but extend pain and problems. Revealing that you’ve been blindsided removes the awkwardness and enables people close to you to provide support, advice and comfort.

An excellent way to avoid this urge to hide your mistakes is to feel empowered rather than victimized. Instead of asking yourself who’s to blame for what happened to you, ask what you should do to fix it.

Next, overcome your natural pessimism so you can set aside the fears that accompany curveballs. Find ways to fight off the worst-case scenario and deal with the situation realistically. You need to be the batter, not the ball. Perhaps the best way to get past this pessimism is to find some ways you can be of service to others, which will put your own situation in perspective.

The reality is that you can’t do everything, and some things are beyond your power to change. Let go of the things beyond your control, focus on what you can do, and concentrate on matters you can control. One way to handle that is to take a situation that seems beyond your control and break it down into small, discrete steps: things so small they can be finished in, say, an hour. This can make the task manageable, while also boosting your self-confidence with each completed task.

You need to look at the situation from a fresh perspective. In developing a plan to deal with unexpected events, it’s often essential to embrace nonlinear thinking that’s equally unexpected. Curveballs, by their very nature, are rarely solvable through conventional thinking.

So ask yourself a question that’s the opposite of the one you really want answered. Come up with offbeat solutions and try to apply them successfully. Instead of brainstorming for solutions, brainstorm for ways to make things worse. These approaches can help you break out of routine patterns.

A Pitch You Can Hit

No matter how eager you are to get over this curveball, you need to be patient. The incredible speed of change encourages speedy action, but you must make sure you wait for a pitch you can hit. Persistence beats resistance, so it’s vital to give yourself and your plan the time needed for it to be successful.

You can develop the needed perspective and patience by changing the way you talk to yourself. Don’t use phrases like “I have to,” or “I need to,” which add to a sense of urgency. And don’t call your response to the curveball a “project” or “effort.” Those terms make the necessary actions seem titanic. Instead, call it a “task” or a “job,” which are finite descriptors. Also, don’t let the curveball take over your entire business and personal schedule.

Curveballs offer opportunities, but to take advantage of them, you must shift from a defensive to an offensive stance. Think of yourself as a competitor and look at the situation your organization is facing with the goal of taking advantage of it. For example, imagine that you’re an entrepreneur looking to start up a business that will compete with your company. How would you do it?

Truly great managers are those who are able to institutionalize their ability to hit curveballs. By filling out your team with other curveball hitters, you can create a group that fosters innovative thinking to ensure your company’s long-term success. Rather than looking elsewhere for these individuals, try to develop them from within. Pass along the techniques you’ve learned and applied. Coach them through their own curveballs.

Finally, the most successful individuals are those who are able to apply their skills outside the ballpark. They realize that the ability to hit curveballs can be applied to both business and personal life. The ultimate winner is someone who learns to succeed at both ends of life’s double-header.

Scott R. Singer is a strategic change expert and author of How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business. He has spent the past 20 years advising companies on how to adapt to change and embrace technological advances.

Scott R. Singer is a strategic change expert and author of How to Hit a Curveball: Confront and Overcome the Unexpected in Business. He has spent the past 20 years advising companies on how to adapt to change and embrace technological advances.

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