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The Dumb Things We Do, How Business is Like Golf

Golf is like business. Anyone can try, yet most never excel. Those who are good at it make it look easy. Success in golf or in business usually takes time and money. Both require that you think quickly under pressure, and it seems there’s always someone behind you who wants to get ahead.

But golf is most like business because there are many ways to get in trouble.

Number One
Sometimes you just do dumb things, like my recent four-putt from 20 feet or the time I failed to check in with a key customer who then took her business to a competitor. These are un-forced errors. Just. Plain. Dumb.

Number Two
Although not in the variety of dumb, there are mistakes in golf and in business that are costly nonetheless. I was recently on a course I had never played, and on an easy par four I used the wrong club on my second shot and the ball landed 25 yards short of the green. When I got to the ball, I realized it was in a stream that I couldn’t see from 150 yards away. Yes, I caused this mistake, but I’m not sure I could have avoided it since I did not know the course. I had a similar unintentional mistake in my business when a prospective client asked me for a competitive report which I spent hours preparing in anticipation of him hiring me, only to be told once I gave it to him that he had already selected another consultant. A mistake on my part, yes, but avoidable? Not sure.

Number Three
The most common link I see between golf and business is when you find yourself in trouble, it’s tempting to look for a spectacular way out, yet often when you try the spectacular, you only make your trouble bigger. When recently playing my home course, I hit my drive into a heavy line of trees. When I got to my ball I could see I had about 180 yards to the green, yet to get there I’d have to hit the ball through a heavy stand of trees. My alternative was to hit a 35-yard shot back out to the fairway and give myself a reasonably easy third shot to the green. But noooooo …. I couldn’t envision anything but good coming from my spectacular shot through the trees, so I went for it. Well, my shot was indeed spectacular, that is spectacularly bad. I hit the ball into the center of a big tree and the ball careened to the right 25 yards out of bounds into a lake. I ended up with a 9 on the hole that I could have easily made a 5. And I lost a $3.00 golf ball. Insult to injury.

But I don’t reserve my spectacular errors just for the golf course. About a year ago, a client retained me to sell his business. He had a very profitable business and I knew I’d have many buyers who’d want to take a look at it. There was one big problem with the business that I chose to not think about, for I envisioned a quick sale, a hefty commission, and a nice post-closing press release. I took a dozen or so potential buyers through the business knowing all along the reason the business was so profitable was its over reliance on one customer. None of my prospective buyers had interest in the business because of this customer concentration. Duh, I knew before I started this was going be the likely result, but I tried to “hit it through the trees” and get a spectacular result. Suffice it to say, I lost time and energy (not to mention credibility).

Whether it’s on the golf course or in business, when we’re in trouble it’s easy to see a spectacular way out, and when that spectacular plan works, it’s a very cool thing. But usually, the spectacular way out doesn’t work and more times than not, the spectacular leaves us in an even worst situation.

When in trouble, admit it then look for the cleanest, safest, fastest way out. It might cost you a bit up-front, but chances are good (likely) that the up-front cost of that simple way out will be much less than the long-term cost of the spectacular way out. Save yourself the penalty strokes and the lost ball.

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Tennessee Valley Group

Jim is an attorney (non-resident status with the Missouri Bar) and though he no longer practices law, he has read and negotiated enough legal documents to fill a cargo tanker. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and knows how Wall Street and private equity operates. Jim is a Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 31 listed general civil mediator with tons of experience helping business owners (large and small) work through sensitive problems to achieve winning results. He is the author of "Home Run, A Pro's Guide to Selling Your Business, Seven Principles to Make Your Company Irresistible."