In baseball the stat line for a hitter who strikes out, flies out or grounds out in all his at-bats during a game is shown as 0 – 4 or 0 – 5. The stat sheet for a basketball player who continually shoots and misses without scoring a point might show 0 – 7 or 0 – 10. In athletic terms this is an O-fer . . . O for 4 or O for 5 . . . O-fer. Going O-fer is an ignominious experience and generally brings on scorn from the fans. In 1922, Babe Ruth faced St. Louis Browns’ pitcher Hub Pruett. The first 14 at-bats for the Babe resulted in 10 strikeouts and two walks. During the 1922 World Series, Babe Ruth hit one single and one double in 17 trips to the plate. Arguably one of the greatest players to ever step on the diamond, Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times. That was fewer than a number of other baseball luminaries such as Barry Bonds (1,539), Mark McGwire (1,596), Mickey Mantle (1,710), Alex Rodriquez (2,287) and Reggie Jackson (2,597). Any student of the game will tell you that all of these players were some of the best in the history of baseball.
There is another side to the story. Ruth had 2,214 Runs Batted In (RBI); Bonds had 1,996; McGwire had 1,414; Mantle had 1,509; Rodriguez had 2,086, and Jackson had 1,702. And each smacked a lot of home runs during their respective careers – Ruth (714); Bonds (762); McGwire (583); Mantle (536); Rodriguez (696) and Jackson (563). I know this is a lot of statistics and if you aren’t a baseball fan you may not fully understand the astounding nature of these feats. But there’s a point to all of this. In life we do strikeout. Baseball players strikeout. Entrepreneurs strikeout. Salespeople strikeout. Going O-fer is just part of the game.
What matters is how we deal with going O-fer. When we flameout do we play the victim and blame someone else? Or do we examine our technique as well as the surrounding circumstances and look for ways to tweak our “form?” How easy would it have been for these great baseball players to have let their propensity to strikeout destroy their careers? Instead they did something else. They figured out how to take the strikeout experience and find a way to hit the ball out of the park in a future plate appearance. Babe Ruth was number 118 in lifetime strikeouts, but he was number two in RBIs. I find this fascinating. Here’s a man who drove in far more runs than he struck out – yet he had a lot of strikeouts over the course of his career.
I listened to a podcast recently about a venture capital firm that was launching its first fund. The principals were doing the typical road show and calling on prospective investors in multiple markets. They would typically be gone for a week at a time – one week they made 25 meetings in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami and New York. During that particular week they were O-fer through 22 meetings. Imagine how this might feel! Yet, on their final day, they went three-for-three and netted tens of millions of dollars in commitments.
There’s more than just resilience at work here. It’s critical to understand that going O-fer is just part of the game. It doesn’t mean the game is over. With each new meeting, pitch, visit or idea, we’re starting zero to zero. It’s a tie game. I have learned not to look at O-fer beyond zero to zero. If we don’t win the last at-bat we simply start over with the next one. We remember the instructive elements from the encounter and discard all emotion as we make the pitch again to the next customer. We only lose if we stop playing the game. We know in our bones that eventually we’ll hit a home run or an RBI. So we keep playing the game.
If we understand that O-fer is just part of the game and can maintain our positive energy, we can erase our doubts and feelings of limitation. This sets us up to ultimately connect with the ball and score consistently.
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This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.