Are you skating to where the puck is?
In Canada, Gretzky, a brilliant ice hockey player, is a national hero. Gretzky was so good that when he retired, his number – 99 – was retired from all North American professional hockey teams. He was once asked why he was so successful. He had no immediate answer for the reporter, but he went away and thought about it. Later he summed it up perfectly: “I skate to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been.”
The simplicity of this message belies what it conveys for us in business. It’s not the grand vision or the 90-day plan, but the simplest action I can take right now to achieve my goal. In ice hockey it is skating to where the puck is going; in business it might be making that phone call to a client, or having that difficult conversation with a team member.
This is backed up by current research in the recent best-seller Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader where the author, INSEAD professor Herminia Ibarra, shows that becoming a leader is not an event but a process with kinks and curves.
Ibarra turns the usual ‘think first and then act’ philosophy on its head, arguing that we learn through action. She says action increases your ‘outsight’: the valuable external perspective you gain from direct experiences and experimentation.
Of course through experience, champions such as Gretzky build up formidable outsight, but it all starts with that simple first step. Skating to where the puck is.
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